August 21st, 993

There were no loose ends. Patrick decided he was going to retire from his short-lived teaching career once he submitted Jones Abbot's name for promotion and it was accepted. Mary Haart was long since promoted, and Coach Campbell officially became a member of the medic community. After so much exposure to all the good he could do, it was unlikely he would be able to deny his calling for very much longer.

Instead, Patrick wanted to be an academy teacher full time. There was a position open ever since Lica passed away and, while Patrick could not claim to be as brilliant a strategist as Lica was, he thought he would fulfill the job well enough. Others seemed to think so too, because he was slotted to begin at the start of the new year.

Part of the reason why he made this decision was because Riley could not stand another day away from her duty as a Change. She loved it too much. Between both her pregnancies occurring so close together, it had been almost two years since she had gone on a mission. She complained about it every day. Patrick made the executive decision to switch with her. Honestly, the more time wore on, the more he realized he didn't really like being a Change anyway.

Perhaps the notion of retiring from Changehood hadn't quite settled in for him yet, and he imagined it probably wouldn't for a little while. As Riley began to train to get back in shape for her missions, Patrick had to learn how to do most of the jobs Riley did when it came to taking care of the two boys.

They named the baby Leif. There was no positive way to tell for sure who his father was, but Patrick was almost certain he was not his. It didn't bother him as much as he thought it would, oddly enough. He thought he would accidentally treat the child more like a nephew or a child of a friend, but he assumed full responsibility for the baby and found himself giving an equal amount of care and attention to both his sons. Time would eventually reveal for sure who the boy's father was, though Patrick did not find himself so eager to know anymore. They kept it a secret; the only people who knew were Ashleigh and Xavier.

Leif was fussier than any baby had any right to be. Patrick spent many nights sitting up, just rocking the baby, becoming so tired that he was actually able to fall asleep many times with the baby crying in his arms. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to his wails; he was clean, his stomach was full and he appeared comfortable enough. Still, he cried whenever he wasn't eating.

Andrew was not sure he liked having a little brother. At first, it seemed as though he expected the boy would be taken back to the hospital after visiting, but he soon realized that Leif was there to stay. Riley insisted that Andrew should be as much part of the process of taking care of Leif as they were; Andrew would sit on Patrick's lap while he changed Leif, or sit on Patrick's shoulders while they rocked him to sleep. Patrick liked to point out that taking care of both of them simultaneously was making everything considerably more difficult, but Riley cleverly pointed out that it was all part of having two children so close in age.

(Also, Patrick and Riley got married today.)

The ceremony was larger than originally intended. Riley and Patrick had a supremely difficult time narrowing down the guest list because both of them were afraid of offending someone if they were carelessly left off. So many people had children, too, which made the list that much more unmanageable. In order to narrow the list down, Patrick and Riley decided to make separate lists and then compare them; whoever was left off either list, would face the consequence of losing an invite.

The first person on both of their lists was Patrick's mother, naturally. They laughed about the fact that her name was first, and both of them had simply written "Mom." The next people on Riley's list were all the Fourth Level Squad members, including the ones she had never served with. Patrick thought this was understandable and, because she didn't have any family besides Patrick and her sons, he wasn't going to deny any of them. In fact, it's not as though he had the authority to deny any of them. Lucas Haart, Romona See, Dani Royberson and Raymond Leeming were all invited, though they were all under the age of fifteen. The younger children were tastefully left off the list, however, because otherwise their parents would have had to attend.

Patrick wrote down Alexander's name next, and Riley wrote his down as well when they compared notes. It had been a long time since Riley had even seen Alexander, but she assured him she wanted him there and wanted to see him again. Patrick was not going to try to talk her out of it, especially since he had so feverishly already invited him many months ago. And, with Alexander naturally came Echo, and whatever offspring they may have produced since the last time they were in Ronin.

Of course both Riley and Patrick wrote down Ashleigh and Xavier Shepherd, a couple which they had gotten exceptionally close to over the recent months. Blake and Apple made the list too, along with their son, Jim. Jordan Hopper was a universal name as well, along with Shaun Hardlen, Ross Simon and their families. Riley mused about whether Jordan had a girlfriend or not, and tentatively wrote and ?? after his name, just to be safe.

Riley surprised Patrick when she wrote down the names of his four students; Remy, Mary, Coach and Jones. Admittedly, Patrick hadn't even written their names down, and Riley smacked him playfully on the shoulder when he did not. She insisted on inviting them, even though Patrick would have rather them not attend.

Riley did not write down Hugh's name, though Patrick had. Once he reminded Riley who he was, Riley insisted on sending him an invitation as well. Even though he wrote the name a few minutes earlier, Patrick was suddenly hesitant on whether Hugh had a place on the guest list, until Riley reassured him that he belonged.

Patrick also wrote down another group of names that he almost wanted to erase before Riley saw: Daniel and Sarella. She sheepishly showed him her paper to reveal she wrote their names down as well. They had a brief discussion on the matter; they both wanted the couple to be there, but they wondered what sort of reaction the others would have in response to their presence. Riley finally resolved that it was likely they wouldn't attend even if they were invited, so she decided to formally invite them anyway.

Sure enough, Daniel and Sarella sent a very polite letter of regret, stating they would not be able to attend for one reason or another, never citing the reason as being something related to Alexander or anyone else.

A ceremony in the Ronin Village was very short and simple. People came to the universal understanding that everyone was very busy and could not set aside too much time for a celebration. Therefore, the ceremony itself usually lasted about ten minutes. Essentially, the bride and groom knelt before the Head Change (or any member of the Fourth Level Squad), and Jordan announced to the guests who these people were and their contributions to the village. For Patrick and Riley, it felt almost like a laundry list of accomplishments throughout their laughs, which made Patrick nearly laugh a few times as Riley nudged him to quiet down, looking surprisingly serious. Jordan recounted some anecdotes and was kind enough to personalize the speech.

He reflected on the painfully long courtship in which Patrick was almost totally oblivious, and cited a few instances in which Patrick chased him around to watch him while the rest of the Squad was on a mission. He recalled, with great fondness, that Riley would sit by his bed and read to him when he woke up from one of his frequent bad dreams. He spoke of Riley's strength in overcoming her recent abduction, in which nearly all of the guests instinctively lowered their heads in response to. They didn't expect Jordan to bring up that tense period of time, but Riley nodded and glanced over her shoulder at the guests, showing she approved that they were finally able to talk about it after all that time.

It was unconventional for a couple to have children before they were married, but Riley wanted the two boys to be part of the ceremony. Andrew sat in Patrick's lap, his mouth gaping open, and watched Jordan's sleeve as it ruffled whenever he moved his hand. Riley cradled Leif who remained asleep and quiet, thanks to Shaun Hardlen's ability to calm the child from the front row.

Patrick must have checked back at the audience twenty times throughout the ceremony, hardly able to even pay attention because all his attention was focused on the face that Alexander was not present. As far as he knew, Alexander and Echo hadn't returned from their little excursion, although he had promised to be there for the wedding. Apparently, something had come up.

Jordan pronounced them officially married and allowed them to stand. The ceremony was over, but traditionally the guests would stay to dance and eat, and of course to share stories with the new married couple. Generally, the ceremony was so short so the Head Change or members of the Fourth Level Squad would be able to leave sooner, but in this case, they were also guests, so things continued on as normal. They had their own stories to share, even though very few of them served on the Squad with Riley.

Patrick found that, for the most part, people had a universal reaction to seeing Riley and Patrick together married for the first time: "What took so long?"

However, even though they were only just now married, Patrick felt as though they had been married for a while. In fact, the moment Riley had said "yes" to his proposal, he considered them married. The ceremony was just a formality. She had been his wife for almost two years.

"So sorry that Jimmy cried throughout the whole thing…" Apple said regretfully as she took her son from Blake. "Of course he's not crying anymore…"

"I didn't even notice," Riley admitted.

"It's about time," Blake said expectedly to Patrick, holding out his hand for Patrick.

Patrick took it. "Somehow, I expected you'd say that," Patrick said. "How's that arm?"

"Are you going to ask me that every time you see me?" Blake demanded with a laugh.

"I feel bad," Patrick said. "It's my broken arm."

"It's not broken anymore," Blake pointed out, bending his arm several times just to show off the mobility he had. "That's the thing with broken bones. They heal."

"They heal especially on Blake," Apple said, as she leaned into her husband.

"Well, he has you," Riley added.

"And he doesn't thank me nearly enough," Apple said, and Blake rolled his eyes with a smile.

"You two have to keep making your rounds," said Blake. "Don't ignore any of your guests."

"We have to speak to your mother," Riley said to Patrick. "About the house."

"Today? Right now?" Patrick waved to Blake and Apple as they wandered off and then turned to Riley who was waiting eagerly for him to join in. "We can talk to her tomorrow, can't we?"

"What if she sells it before then?"

"By tomorrow?" Patrick remarked skeptically.

"I'll talk to her," Riley said. "She's going to want to hold Leif anyway. Let me take Andrew."

"I don't think he wants to go," Patrick said as he attempted to put Andrew down, only to be met with protests.

"Okay, keep him," Riley said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

She tore off in search of Patrick's mother. Ever since Leif was born, Riley decided the apartment was too small for them. A few months earlier, Patrick's mother had brought up that she didn't like living in a big house and wanted to look for an apartment so she could live more comfortably. Riley proposal was essentially to offer a convenient switch that she was confident Patrick's mother would be all over. However, they recently discovered that Patrick's mother was fiercely attempting to sell as soon as possible, and once Riley had her mind set on getting the house, she wasn't about to let the opportunity slip by her.

Patrick sat down in his chair and stood Andrew up on his knee. Andrew stood tall, proud of himself for being so tall, and firmly took hold of both his father's thumbs to keep steady. Patrick waved limitedly to Ashleigh and Xavier who looked as though they would approach him at first, but then looked passed him and turned around to go the other way.

Confused, Patrick figured someone must be coming up behind him.

"Patrick, you look good."

The voice was familiar. Patrick turned slightly in his chair to see Alexander standing over him, so he promptly wriggled his hand free from Andrew and stood up to greet his mentor with a casual handshake.

"Who told you that?" Patrick asked sarcastically as he readjusted Andrew to hold him in one arm.

"I'm going on faith that you at least cleaned up for your wedding," Alexander said.

"Riley made me," Patrick joked. "If I had it my way, I'd still look like a mangy sixteen-year-old kid."

Alexander was smiling slightly, and Patrick noticed the scar cutting down the left side of his lip for the first time in many years. Andrew went quiet and hardly moved as he looked upon Alexander with a more sophisticated eye than the last time he saw him. Perhaps he was unsure of what exactly he was looking at, unsure of why this particular person did not have a face like most other people, unsure of why he didn't recognize him.

It didn't seem as though Alexander was going to provide any exposition for why he was late, or where he had been, or anything at all, really. "What happened?" Patrick finally asked. "Why weren't you at the ceremony?"

"I tried to get here," Alexander said. "But there have been a lot of complications with Bridget—I won't talk about it. Not today."

"What do you mean by complications?" Patrick pressed. "Is Echo all right? Who's Bridget?"

Alexander sighed a little reluctantly. "Echo's fine," he said. "Bridget is…the girl."

"The girl…your daughter?" Patrick questioned. "A girl? You had a girl?"

"Yes," Alexander said, looking almost embarrassed. "They're all still back in Ursa with Echo's parents."

"Congratulations," Patrick said. "A daughter. I can't imagine you with a daughter. I would think daughters are harder than sons. But…she is going to be all right, isn't she?" Alexander nodded reassuringly, though he didn't seem terribly confident. "What was the problem?"

"Apparently, Jason was taking up most of the room for most of the pregnancy," Alexander said.

At first, Patrick felt only concern for the little baby, but he suddenly realized what exactly Alexander had just told him.

"Twins?" he guessed.

"Yeah," Alexander said with a nod. He looked less embarrassed and more excited. "They're all going to be okay, but we were told not to take them traveling just yet. I came alone."

"It's all right," Patrick said. "I just want everyone to be all right. And twins—that's insane!"

"Insane?" Alexander repeated. "You're one to accuse me of insanity. I heard a rumor that you have a second son. Is that true?"

Patrick accidentally stuttered. Quickly he recovered and turned his stutter into a laugh. "Leif," he said. "It was a bit of a surprise for all of us. Fifteenth of June."

"No kidding, same day as the twins," Alexander remarked.

For once, Patrick was glad Alexander was blind so he wouldn't be able to see his gaping expression in response. Of course, there was no proof just yet that Leif was Alexander's son, but the odds of all the babies born on the same day were astronomically low.

"But that's the last thing I'll say about myself," Alexander said, waving his hands. "It's selfish of me to even bring up."

"I asked about it," Patrick pointed out.

"Where's Riley?" Alexander questioned. "Did she give up on you already or has she been sitting here quietly the entire time?" He reached out his hand towards Riley's empty chair to confirm she wasn't there. "I didn't think so."

"She went to my mother," Patrick said. "She wants to buy my mother's house from her. She thinks the apartment is too small, especially with Andrew running around as much as he is." Andrew looked up at his father when he heard his name.

"He's a quiet child," Alexander observed to acknowledge the fact that he hadn't even noticed Andrew was even there.

"He's a lot like me when I was little," Patrick said. "My mother said I never cried and always did what I was told. Except I didn't like to be held. Andrew never wants me to put him down." He paused a moment and glanced through the crowd to see Riley speaking with his mother who was holding the younger Leary. Leif had awoken at some point and was crying all over again. "What about you, Alexander?" Patrick asked almost subconsciously. "What were you like when you were a baby?"

Alexander shrugged innocently. "I don't know," he said. "Shaun says I was a terror as a toddler, though, because I would cry for no reason. Because of my hearing, I never really slept through the night because anything would wake me up. So, I was probably a fairly unmanageable baby as well."

Patrick frowned: Leif never sleeps through the night…any sound makes him jump…he often cries for no reason.

"Something wrong?" Alexander questioned.

"No," Patrick answered immediately as he quickly tried to think of a way to change the subject. "Is it tough to be away from Echo and the kids?"

"This feels like an interrogation, Patrick," Alexander said. "Are you avoiding anything in particular?"

"No, nothing at all," Patrick said. He peered over at Riley again to see she was backing away from his mother and turning to return to Patrick. His mother looked overjoyed to still be holding onto Leif even though he was still sobbing. In fact, she almost seemed to enjoy it more.

Riley stopped short for a moment when she saw who Patrick was talking to, and then she hastily returned to her long stride. "Riley's on her way over," Patrick said quietly to Alexander.

"Oh," Alexander said simply and, suddenly, he was on the defensive. It appeared almost as though he was going to excuse himself and leave at the last minute, but he planted his feet and faced the direction he could hear her approaching.

Riley went right to Patrick and put her arm around his waist. She didn't speak, and neither did Alexander.

It seemed as though the silence would go on forever. Finally, Riley cracked first. She asked, "Alexander, should we act as though it never happened, or should we talk about it?"

"Whatever you want to do, Riley, you deserve that much."

"I just want to be sure we're on the same page so I don't go bringing it up if you wanted to just forget about it."

"It's a bit late at this point, don't you think?"

"I guess so," Riley admitted.

She let go of Patrick and then leaned into Alexander, putting both her arms around him and pulling him into a tight hug. Alexander hesitated a few seconds, and then put his arms gently around her as well, resting his hands on her head.

"Let's never talk about it," she said, and her voice muffled in him, but Patrick knew she was crying. "Talking about it would make everything worse. I want things to be like this."

"I want that too," Alexander said, his voice steady.

Patrick thought, just then, that she was really speaking to him. And when she said, Let's never talk about it, she was referring to the possibility that Leif was Alexander's child. And when she said, Talking about it would make everything worse, she was warning Patrick that Alexander would probably not take the news of accidentally impregnating her as they imagined he would. It would destroy him; it would destroy both of them.

"Good, Patrick," came Black's voice in his ear. "You've learned to listen."