Never Meant To Start A War

This is chapter four of the Battlefield series of fics. It is recommended that you read the chapters in order.

(Angst warning. So much angst in this chapter.)

John takes a deep breath, his hand on the doorknob as the garage door finishes its downward trek and falls silent behind him.

It'd been a long day at work, and while he definitely wouldn't say he was dreading what waited for him on the other side of the door, it was also likely to be more chaos than he honestly would've preferred at the moment.

What he wanted was to kiss Alex, tell him the news, and drag him off to the bedroom to celebrate.

He takes another deep breath and turns the knob, and is immediately greeted by a chorus of "Papa!"s and the smell of something burning.

"Well hello there," he says, giving Anna a kiss on the cheek and picking up Tyler, who promptly wraps his arms around John's neck. "Where's daddy?"

"In the kitchen," Trip says from his seat on the couch, not looking up from his book. "Trying to make dinner."

"Thank you," he says, giving Tyler a kiss on the cheek and putting him back down -- after a bit of resistance -- and making his way to the kitchen.

Alex looks frazzled, cursing at the stove as Mia cries from inside her portable crib, which has seemingly been moved into a corner of the kitchen.

Then again, 'frazzled' seems to be his normal state, these days, ever since they'd adopted another toddler.

"Hey," John says, and Alex cranes his neck around, a slight smile appearing on his face as their eyes meet.

"Hey yourself," Alex says, and John decides it's safe enough to move in, embracing his husband from behind and planting a kiss on the back of his neck.

"What can I do?" John asks, and Alex tenses for a moment.

"I got it," Alex says, his voice flat now. "You've had a long day at work."

"You've had a long day here," John says. "Let me..."

"I got it," Alex says again, tone less friendly this time, before he deflates and his shoulders slump. "I'm sorry. I just..."

Alex trails off, and John wishes sometimes that his husband wasn't so stubborn. Or intent on trying to deal with the household by himself.

"I can go read with Trip," John suggests, figuring he could try and rope in Anna and Tyler somehow. "Or see if Mia needs to be changed..."

"She doesn't," Alex says, breaking free of John's arms, and pulling a pot off the stove. "Go read with Trip."

John knows better than to argue with that.

"Good night," John whispers in the direction of Anna's bed as he turns off the bedroom light and makes his way in the darkened hallway -- lit only by a single nightlight -- to his own bedroom.

Alex still isn't there, and John figures that Tyler's having trouble falling asleep again. He considers checking in, and trying to help, but the last time he'd done that, Alex had chastized him and they'd gotten into a fight that night that had resulted in few words between them the rest of the week.

Even though the makeup sex had been amazing, it's still not a tradeoff John would make again. Even if sex was practically non-existent these days.

He changes quickly into his pajamas and climbs into the bed, sheets still haphazardly placed from the morning. Normally he would just fall asleep by himself, but tonight, he wanted to wait for Alex, to tell him the news.

After all, it wasn't like they had a lot of time to talk otherwise.

He grabs his tablet from the nightstand instead, reading through a few news headlines until the bedroom door opens and Alex appears.

"You're still awake," Alex comments, and John wonders if he'd intended it as admonishment, even though he's sure Alex would have rejected any help anyway.

"I just wanted to talk," John says, setting the tablet down and watching his husband change into his own sleepwear. Even in the dim light, John still thinks he's beautiful.

"I'm fine," Alex says with a sigh, as he climbs into the bed. "I just got a little overwhelmed today."

It wasn't what John had intended to talk about, but he seizes the opportunity anyway. "Look. We both know you're not fine. Let me..."

"We don't need more 'help', John," Alex says, a tinge of annoyance in his voice. "Martha already comes three times a week. You already talked me into a chef once a week to prep meals. I got this."

"But I can..."

"John!" Alex says, anger creeping in now, and John swallows his retort. "Drop it, okay?! Your parents raised the four of you. I'm fucking capable of dealing with ours."

John fights the urge to point out that his own parents had an entire army of household assistants at their disposal. He doesn't want to start a fight tonight. Instead he just nods. "Okay."

"Good night," Alex says, rolling over and facing away from him.

John kisses Alex's cheek before turning over, himself. "Good night, husband."

He supposes the news would have to wait.

There isn't a good opportunity the next night either, or the next, and John can tell that his manager is getting annoyed by his continued requests to postpone the traditional after-work celebration.

So he makes up his mind, Alex's rage be damned, and hires two babysitters and a limo. Alex seems more surprised than upset when they show up Saturday morning and John tells him to get dressed, and John takes that as a good sign.

"We were going to the zoo today," Alex mutters as John pushes him out the door and thanks the babysitters.

"We'll all go to the zoo together tomorrow," John says, giving Alex a rare kiss on the lips, following him to the limo. "We need some us time."

"Maybe," Alex says, and John takes it as agreement, climbing into the limo and grabbing the bottle of champagne chilling in its holder there.


"John..." Alex starts.

"I got the promotion," John says before Alex can start down whatever sidetrack he was going to.

Alex looks surprised at that, then smiles. "That's great! I..." Then his expression falls, and John thinks he looks guilty. "I'm happy for you."

John sets down the champagne and grabs Alex's shoulders, falling slightly into him as the car starts to drive. "Alexander. What's wrong?"

Alex shakes his head and looks like he's forcing a smile onto his face. "I'm happy for you. Really. You've been chasing this for a long time."

"You're still a lousy liar," John says, risking a kiss, and Alex seems to accept this one, melting into him.

When they break, after what feels like minutes later, John realizes his face is wet, and Alex is...

Alex is crying.

"Hey," John says, holding Alex's head against his chest, as awkward as it is. "Hey. It's okay. Talk to me."

"I..." Alex says, between sobs. "Fuck."

"Shhh," John says, kissing Alex's head. "Hey. Whatever it is, it's okay."

"I..." Alex tries again, but the words still seem like they won't come.

John waits, instead, until Alex calms down, trying his best to press gentle kisses and loving words into his head. And it seems to work, because Alex seems more relaxed -- or at least less wound up -- than John has seen him in months.

"Are you upset about your career?" John asks, risking broaching the subject. He knows, as much as Alex refused to admit it, it was still a particularly painful point for his husband.

Alex stiffens for a moment, then seems to nod against John's chest. "It's not fucking fair for me to be, though."


Alex shakes his head, sitting up and wiping his eyes with his hands. "No. We... we talked about this. I didn't want strangers, or nannies, or just... someone raising our kids. I wanted it to be one of us. And you were right. The job means more to you than to me, and..."

"You mean the most to me," John says, kissing Alex again, quickly. "Always. Talk to me. Please."

Alex hiccups and looks around, and eventually grabs a bottle of water from one of the holders. "I... I would never say it wasn't worth it. Our kids... our kids are fucking amazing, John. And I love them. I love you. But I..."

He trails off, and John thinks he understands enough to complete the thought. "You're still allowed to mourn your career. Even if you wouldn't change anything, now."

"It... it's not just that," Alex says, staring off into space, and John tells himself to give him the time he needs to speak. "I... you're right. But I... I guess I'm just overwhelmed."

"That's obvious," John says, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth. "So let's talk about it. What can I do to help?"

"You're doing enough," Alex says, immediately.

John shakes his head. "None of that. I know you're particular about routines for the kids, and particularly about activities. But I'm still here. I can help. And if not me, then..."

"Don't," Alex says, his voice a warning now. "No nannies."

"No nannies," John says, conceding that point. "Fine. How about more time from Martha? She can take care of more of the household so you can focus on the kids."

"She already comes three times a week," Alex says. "It's... it's more than basically everyone else gets. Everyone else has to clean and raise the kids. Why should we be special?"

"This is the part where I get to say, 'because we can afford it', and you don't get to argue," John says. "I don't want you running yourself ragged like this. Besides, many other people have family to help, and both of our families are nowhere nearby. So let me get you some help."

Alex sighs, looking like he wants to argue, but then nods. "Fine. Every other day?"

"Four days a week. Plus a chef twice a week," John says. "Either that or I'm going to start ordering food for dinner, and you want our kids to eat 'healthy homecooked meals rather than the salt-filled crap those restaurants pop out', so I don't think you'd like that very much."

A smile creeps onto Alex face and he lets out a breath that sounds almost like a laugh. "I want to argue, but I feel like I'd lose this one. Fine. It'd honestly be easier to not have to stretch the prepared stuff across an entire week."

"Good. Plus I want to help out more. Let me do more, Alex. Please."

Alex rolls his eyes, but he's definitely smiling now. "God. You're incapable of being satisfied, aren't you?"

John still feels like he wants to propose more help for Alex, but doesn't want to push his luck. "I wouldn't say that."

Alex stares at him for a second, and John wonders if he's missed the innuendo, but then Alex laughs. "Where are we going?"

"A river cruise," John says, and Alex's expression goes soft. "Lunch, a leisurely sail, then dinner."

"I love the river," Alex murmurs.

"I love you," John says, not bothering to hide the grin on his face now.

"I love you too," Alex says, grabbing John and kissing him again.

Things get better, for a bit. The extra help around the house seems to make a difference, and Alex seems less overwhelmed by everything.

But then John falls into his new role in earnest, and finds himself working later and later nights, and seeing less and less of his family during the week. He wouldn't mind, necessarily, except it means he's capable of providing less and less of the 'help' he'd promised Alex, and seeing Alex start to fall back into exhaustion in the evenings is really what bothers him.

One night, he arrives home late from work on a Saturday, finding the house quiet and his husband already asleep, and he decides something needs to change.

He books another limo and another two babysitters -- because it seemed to work well last time -- and forces Alex out of the house again.

"Where are we going?" Alex asks once they're situated in the car, his voice unusually flat, and John wonders how to approach the situation.

"I got us a room at a small B&B," John says. "So an overnight near the woods. And a whiskey tasting."

"I didn't pack a bag," Alex says, panic in his voice.

John kisses him, gently. "I got it," he says. It hadn't been difficult. Alex had been so occupied the previous night with both of the twins throwing a tantrum at once that John had had plenty of time to fill a bag with clothing and necessities.

"I love you," Alex says, but it sounds... desperate, for some reason.

"I know," John says, smiling, and hoping Alex can see the affection. "I love you, too."

John would be lying if he said the sex was good, but something seems to be on Alex's mind the entire time, and John doesn't want to pry.

But as they curl up together afterward on the bed, Alex's breaths, instead of slowly evening out, start growing more irregular, and when John looks up, Alex is crying.

"Hey," he says, moving so their heads are even. "Husband. What's wrong?"

That seems to be the wrong thing to say, because Alex starts crying in earnest, and it takes an extended period of snuggles and whispered words before he's calm again.

"Sorry," Alex says, shuddering, as John holds him. "I... I'm fine."

"Clearly, you're not," John says, unwilling to let this drop. "Talk to me. Are you overwhelmed again?"

Alex seems to consider the question for a moment before shaking his head, and shudder again. "No."

John waits, but no clarification seems to come. "Then... what's wrong?"

"It's nothing."


"Can't you leave it alone?!" Alex hisses, rolling out of John's arms, angry now.


His only response is the slamming of the bathroom door.

John waits a bit, wanting to give Alex time, but after half an hour, he figures he needs to act. He walks over to the bathroom door, knocking as quietly as he can.

"What?" Alex's voice is muffled, and it sounds like he's been crying again.

"Don't do this. Please." John thinks he probably sounds more desperate than he'd intended to. "Alex. Talk to me."

"I..." Alex starts, before it sounds like he's crying again. "I can't do this."

"The kids?"

"No," Alex says. "This. Us."

John can feel his heart fall at that. He tells himself not to make assumptions. "I'm going to need you to clarify that," he says, trying to keep his voice as even as possible.

There's no response for a bit, but then, to his surprise, the door opens, and Alex stares at him, face wet and eyes red and puffy.

"At least be honest with me, Calhoun."

John frowns. Alex had only used his first name once before, when they'd gotten into an argument over the wedding. Alex had yelled it at him, clearly trying to find something that hurt, and it had worked. They hadn't spoken in a week, and John had honestly thought the wedding was off, and that they were done.

"I'm always honest with you," he says, refusing to let it work this time. "What do you want to know?"

"Who is it?"

"What?!" It takes John a second to understand. "Wait. Do you think I'm..."

"I'm not an idiot," Alex says, turning away so John's staring at the back of his head. "You know what? I don't want to know who. I wouldn't know them anyway. Just... forget I asked. Never mind."

"Alex," John says, trying his hardest to suppress the anger he's feeling now, even though he's sure some of it seeps through.

"I'm not stupid, Cal!" Alex yells, turning back toward him. His face is red now not with sadness, but with anger. "This is how it is, right?! Your dad has a whore in every city?! At least you don't have to travel for yours!"

"Shut. Up." John says, making no attempt to mask his anger now. "Listen to me very carefully, Alexander, because I'm only going to say this once. My father has never cheated on my mother. He never would, and how fucking dare you suggest otherwise."

Alex scoffs. "Sure. But that's n..."

"And I have never fucking cheated on you."

They glare at each other a moment, until Alex seems to deflate. "You... you haven't?"

John rubs his forehead, honestly in disbelief that they're even having this conversation. "Alex. Despite what you clearly think -- and thank you for thinking so little of me -- I'm not the kind of person who prioritizes getting my dick wet over my fucking family."

"But you..."

"That was the entire point of this, okay?!" John's leaning into his anger now. "I told you I was working late -- and clearly you didn't believe me -- but work has been consuming my life, and I miss you! I miss you and the kids and, yeah, I miss having sex with you, okay?! But I wanted to get you somewhere we could talk, because I want to fucking quit, and that's not something I want to do without your input. Because you're my fucking husband!"

Alex seems horrified now, his mouth opening and closing a few times but nothing coming out. "I... I didn't..."

"I'll be back," John says, quickly pulling on the nearest-available clothing and grabbing his wallet. "At some point. Enjoy the fucking whiskey."

He slams the door behind him, and doesn't look back.

John thinks it's probably a benefit that they're in a small town situated near some woods. Still, the walk on a winding trail through some trees does little to calm his anger. He sits on a log next to a small river and stares down it, trying to organize his thoughts.

He feels betrayed, he thinks, which is somewhat amusing given the subject. He tries to think over what he could have done that would've made Alex distrust him like that. He wonders what he should have done differently. He tries to convince himself that this was all Alex's fault, somehow.

He sighs, grabbing a nearly rock and tossing it into the stream. The ka-chunk sound it makes, for some reason, helps.

Despite the rational side of his brain, he holds out hope somehow that Alex would find him here and apologize, but of course he wouldn't. Alex had no idea where he was.

He sighs again and stands. This wasn't something he could work out on his own. He needs to talk to Alex.

The room is empty when he gets back, and John isn't sure whether he's pleased or upset that Alex had gone to the whiskey tasting after all.

He sits in an armchair in the corner, grabbing his tablet and trying to focus on a book. It doesn't quite work though, and after he's reread the same paragraph on the third page for the fifth time, the door opens.

He's on his feet immediately, tablet clattering to the floor, and Alex stops, his hand still on the doorknob, staring at him like a deer caught in headlights.

"Hey," John tries.

Alex swallows, stepping into the room and quietly closing the door behind him. "Hey."

"How was the whiskey?" John asks, balling up his hands into fists. For some reason, he wants Alex to broach the topic.

"I'm a little drunk," Alex says, stumbling toward the bed as if to reinforce the point.

John sighs and sits back down in the chair, watching as Alex lies down on the bed, facing away from him.

"Glad you enjoyed it," John says, picking up his tablet again.

Alex doesn't say anything, and John wonders if Alex had passed out until a small sniffle catches his attention.

He's pretty sure Alex is crying again.

"Hey," he says, trying to be empathetic this time. "I... I'm sorry."

Alex seems to laugh at that. "You have nothing to be sorry about."

John thinks that's probably true, but he wants to keep the conversation going, anyway. "I'm sorry if I ever gave you any reason to doubt me."

Alex sniffles and rolls over in the bed, facing John now, and wipes his nose with his hand. "You didn't. I was... it was so stupid."

"Can I tell you a story?" John asks, thinking he's understanding more of his own reaction now, and continuing when Alex nods. "Christmas that year you and I got together, when I was back with my family... it came out that my sister Penelope had been cheating on her husband. On Sebastian."

"Oh?" Alex says, his voice rough as he sniffles again.

"Dad was apoplectic. None of us had ever seen him that angry before. He yelled at her over dinner, almost chased her out of the house... he was going to disinherit her, except Sebastian insisted they'd work it out. And they tried, I'm sure."

"But they... got divorced," Alex says, and John swallows heavily. He'd mentioned the divorce to Alex while they were dating, but had never expanded on why.

"Yeah," he says. "In the end, they couldn't move on from it. And dad... dad did what he said he would, and basically ignored their prenup. Wrote her out of his will. Practically adopted Sebastian as a son. She's doing okay now, but it took her a while."

"That... explains a lot," Alex says, and John knows he's thinking about how Sebastian had always seemed more comfortable around John's family's gatherings than his sister had. "So, what... you're not cheating on me because you're worried about losing daddy's money?"

"Alex," John growls, angry again that Alex is taking the wrong message from his story.

Alex shakes his head, looking regretful now. "Sorry. That... that wasn't fair of me. I... I didn't mean it. I'm just... I'm an idiot."

"The point is," John continues, forcing himself to keep his voice steady, "that even if I had somehow considered it, I saw what it did to their family. And to my family. And now, you're my family, Alex. You, and Trip, and Anna and Tyler and Mia. We're happy... or at least I thought we were. I would never want to screw that up."

Alex squeezes his eyes shut, and a tear rolls down his cheek. "I... I know that. I... I don't think that little of you. I promise."

"What did I do?" John asks, needing to know now. "Other than working more than I should have. Why... why wouldn't you trust me?"

Alex rolls back over in the bed, seemingly unable to meet John's gaze again, and doesn't say anything for a bit.

"Alex?" John prompts after a bit. "What..."

"I feel like I'm not enough," Alex says, his voice almost so quiet that John can't make out the words.

John feels all of his anger immediately dissipate at that. "Hey. Alex. Why would..."

"It's not you," Alex says, rolling back over and wiping his nose again. "It's... it's not you. Really."

John can't resist anymore. He's on the bed in a flash, his arms around Alex as he shudders. "Hey. It's okay. Talk to me."

"What... what am I bringing to this?" Alex asks, shuddering again. "I'm not working. I can't even manage the kids for you. I can't... take care of your... needs."

"My libido is not your responsibility," John interjects. "And you're not my maid. You do so much, but you're more than what you do for me, and for us."

"That... isn't the point," Alex says, shuddering again. "I... don't have anything, so all I can do is... to do what I can. For you. And I can't even do that."

John thinks he's starting to understand what Alex is saying. "Alexander. Is this about money?"

Alex doesn't say anything, but nods, and John sighs.

"I know we've talked about this, but I'm going to say it again. You are more than the amount of money in your bank account." He pauses. "Well, in our bank account."

"Which I'm not contributing to," Alex mutters.

"Hey. No." John tries to ignore the sense of frustration creeping in. "I... don't know how else to say this, Alex. I can't help the fact that my family is wealthy. I've tried to be respectful of your wishes and in how we take advantage of that. But it feels like you... you're resenting me for something I can't control."

"I don't resent you," Alex says, sniffling again and wiping his nose, and John wishes there was a box of kleenex within reach.

"Then don't feel like you're not enough," John says, even though he isn't sure the points really connect. "You... you're everything to me, you know that? I... don't know how to make you understand that."

Alex shakes his head. "I... don't know either. But... thank you."

Neither of them seems to be sure what to say for a bit, so John decides to change the subject.

"I'm going to quit my job."

"No," Alex says, immediately. "No."

"Alex..." John starts, and Alex shakes his head again.

"No. I..." He sighs. "This isn't going to make sense, but I just need to say it. I... already feel bad that we're taking advantage of your family's... resources. If you're working, at least I can feel like we're doing this... by ourselves. Sometimes."

"I can get a new job," John says. "It's not like there's any shortage of companies in our field."

"No," Alex says again. "But is... is a demotion an option?"

It's a small concession, but John grabs onto it. "I hadn't considered that. I can discuss that with my manager, though. It... would give me time back. Hopefully like it was before."

"I liked how it was before," Alex whispers, as if he's afraid to admit it.

John allows himself to smile at that. "Me, too."

"Make love to me?" Alex asks, twisting so he's looking into John's eyes. "I'm an idiot and I don't deserve you, but I..."

John shuts him up with a kiss, already tugging at Alex's shirt.


"Well, you've gotten big!" John's mother Camilla says with a smile as she scoops Tyler into her arms.

"You're letting all the heat escape," Bernard grumbles, gently pulling his wife back inside as the rest of them file in the doorway. "And where's that husband of yours, Cal?"

"Here, sorry," Alex says as he walks up the walkway, and John puts down Mia so he can help him with the packages. "Just grabbing the presents."

"You didn't have to bring gifts, dear," Camilla says, even though John knows she's just saying it to be polite. There would've been no end to the lecture he would have gotten if they'd shown up empty-handed. "Besides, the servants could have gotten those."

"I brought my rock collection," Trip says, and John thinks he's never been so grateful for an interruption in his life.

"Show me," Camilla says with a smile, holding out her hand, which Trip eagerly takes, and they walk with Tyler and Anna in the direction of the living room together as Bernard disappears with Mia down a hallway.

"Are you okay?" John asks Alex, who's waving off a servant attempting to take some of the gifts from him.

"Yeah," Alex says, smiling. "It's weird, but I... I'm happy to be here. For once."

They'd talked more properly after their argument at the B&B in the woods, and John thinks they'd finally managed to work through Alex's long-standing sense of inferiority, and not belonging. He doesn't think he'd quite understood how much it had still been bothering his husband, but they'd managed to land in a better place, and he'd promised he'd try and be more cognizant of Alex's insecurities.

At least, now that they were both more aware of Alex's insecurities and feelings of inadequacy, Alex had seemed significantly more willing to let John help out around the house and with the kids, and felt less of a need to try and do everything by himself. John had teased him about his 'Ruling with an iron fist' and Alex had laughed as John had intended instead of getting upset about it like he would have in the past.

Speaking of which, he'd managed to get the demotion as well, and that had maybe helped more than their getaway had. At the very least, it had started allowing them enough time together to really rekindle their sex life again, and John definitely appreciates that outcome.

"Don't let mom hear you say that," John says with a grin, grabbing another package from his husband's arms as they head toward the living room together.

"I love you," Alex says, looking at John affectionately.

John leans in for a quick kiss. "I love you too."