A/N: Hope everyone had a great start to a new year!

As always thank you so much for every read, follow, favorite, and review! They all mean so much to me, and I love hearing your thoughts on the revision!

Riley sat outside her mother's bakery, spine straight, and hands clasped on the table. She was an adult now, a mother there to negotiate a peace treaty, but her heart cried out for the bay window of her childhood. It was the place where she and Maya figured out their most important stuff. Whenever the world got confusing and scary, she would sit there and feel safe from it all. Her world had never felt more unstable or frightening than it had for the last week and if their second attempt at this conversation went as badly as the first, it would only get worse.

'Please don't let it get worse,' she begged internally.

Lucas turned the corner and she was gripped with a backward sense of deja vu.

'Please let this time be different' she tapped her fingers nervously on the table, waiting for him to approach.

He noted her rigid posture and clasped hands, with an inward sigh. She didn't look happy to see him. In fact, she didn't appear to be feeling anything at all. Which was discouraging since he couldn't be near her without the waves of nostalgia and regret crashing over him.

The blonde gripped the back of the chair across from her, leaning on the object for comfort.

"Hi," he tried to sound normal, but the word came out strangled.

She lifted her gaze to meet his, a wisp of a smile on her lips.

"Hey." Her greeting was weak and breathy, like a singer trying to be sexy in a song that wasn't meant to be.

It did make Lucas grin though.

"Hi," he glanced down at the table, uncertain if he should sit down or not.

"Thanks for doing this. I know you don't have to, so it means a lot to me."

She nodded silently, her smile now gone. The only way he could know he had no rights was if he had spoken with a lawyer.

Her hand gestures to the chair.

"Should we walk or sit?"

Her knees bounced with anxious energy.

"You know what, let's just walk," she slid her seat back and rose from it. "Walking's good."

The blonde shrugged, unsure what had just happened, but sensing it was better not to ask.

"Walking's good," he parroted.

He looked back at the path they had taken last time. It was silly, but some part of him feared that returning to that loop physically would put them in the same predicament conversationally as well.

"Can we go this way?" He pointed in the opposite direction.

She nodded again, one side of her mouth turned upward in an uncharacteristic smirk.

"We can do that," she assured, turning in the same direction.

The two walked in awkward silence, Riley just a step behind him. It was the perfect metaphor for how she'd always felt with him; just a step behind. She considered saying the thought aloud, but decided not to.

She knew how Maya would begin, by reminding him that she had all the power, but Riley didn't want to hurt him that way. Nor did it seem necessary to point out, since he already knew.

"Can I just say something?" He whirled around, suddenly facing her. "One thing, and then you can say whatever you want and I won't interrupt or argue. I promise."

The brunette tipped her head down, offering permission to continue.

Lucas released the breath he'd been holding. He knew his entire future weighed on what happened next. This was his moment.

"I can only imagine what the last three years have been like for you, raising Lily by yourself, thinking that I chose not to be here with the two of you." He paused, hoping he didn't sound too rehearsed. "And I know I didn't handle things right last week. You were right. I wasn't thinking about her or you, I was thinking about me, and what I wanted…or didn't want."

Her head titled to the side, not understanding.

"I just didn't want to lose any more time," he explained, shoulders sagging.

Her dark eyes melted into a soft, warm chocolate.

"I can't promise that I'll be perfect, but I can be a good dad…if given the chance."

Timidly, she reached out to touch his arm, and their eyes met.

"I believe that," she smiled weakly, pulling back.

"And as much as I'd love to let you think I'm the perfect mom, I'm not. Half the time I have no idea what I'm doing, I just make it up as I go."

She read the books and asked for advice, but there was only so much she could do to prepare. Most of her knowledge about Lily and how to mother her had come from simple trial and error.

Her gaze shifted to her hands, where one fingernail was picking at another.

"And I didn't handle this any better than you did. I mean, I am worried. Of course, I'm worried. She's just a little girl and we just changed her whole world. That's a big deal."

Riley began walking and Lucas followed. He couldn't help but think of how he'd spent their entire relationship following her, waiting for her.

"And I do think it's our job to make this as simple and easy on her as possible."

The blonde nodded from behind.

"I agree."

She could stop right there. Keep the horrible truth to herself. But he had been honest with her, admitted his faults and taken his share of the blame. It was only fair she own her part too.

"It wasn't just about Lily though. I panicked."

The brunette finally turned to face him.

"You started talking about school and moving here, and it all just hit me…this," she gestured around them, "is our new reality."

As he looked into her shame-filled eyes he finally understood what Farkle had been trying to tell him. Riley had wanted this, but she hadn't asked for it, hadn't expected it. She hadn't pushed him away out of anger or resentment.

"And that scares you." He asked, already knowing the answer.

Her wall of defenses cracked with those words.

"This isn't how it was supposed to be. We were supposed to be older and married. You were supposed to be here.

Her eyes stung with unshed tears.

"But then she was here and you weren't, and I had to go on no matter how wrong it felt…but then I got used to it, and I started to think this was it was gonna be. So, when you came back and you started talking about getting to know her and getting your own place, this is gonna sound really selfish, but all I could think about was how if she was with you then she wouldn't be with me."

He'd have given anything in that moment to hold her, to take the pain away. Instead all he could do was reach out and place his hand on her shoulder.

Riley leaned her cheek against the back of his hand, with a grateful smile.

"It's just not the life I wanted for her."

'For any of us.'

"Separate homes, separate parents…"

'Separate families…'

Lucas traced her jawline with his finger.

That wasn't the life he wanted for their daughter either, or for them.

He positioned himself behind her, placing his free hand on her other shoulder. It wasn't the same as holding her, but it was the closest he'd come, with the exception of their collision at the bakery.

The brunette leaned back into him with startling clarity.

It wasn't the bay window she had been wishing for. It was him.

She stepped forward, eager to put distance between them.

"I guess this is something we'll just have to figure out on our own," she rattled nervously.

He forced a smile, trying to hide his disappointment.

"Yeah, like you said, we have a lot of things to figure out, and it's gonna take some time. I get that now."

The defeat in his voice broke her heart.

She knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to be selfless, to make everything better for her and for Lily. Because that's what good fathers did. They made sacrifices for their children. Of course, children didn't know that. They were ignorant of the struggles to mold and provide, until they grew older and more aware.

Her child didn't even know she had a father, never mind how far he'd go to ensure her happiness and safety.

The brunette turned toward Lucas, with a smile.

"You're right, we do need to work out some sort of agreement and it's not going to happen overnight," she paused.

She pushed her doubts back down. Lucas deserved this. Lily deserved this. They all did.

"Do you have plans after this? Because if not, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to come to the park with me."

His brows creased in confusion.

"There's someone there I think you should meet."

His green eyes lit with understanding.

"Really? I mean, you're sure she's ready for this?"

He was ready! But he'd promised to consider Lily first from there on out, and it was a promise he intended to keep.

Riley's smile faded.

Honestly, she had no idea if Lily was ready for any of this. She knew she wasn't. But one meeting was not going to do permanent psychological damage, was it?

"I don't know if we should tell her you're her dad just yet but, I see no reason why she can't meet "mommy's new friend," she made air quotes as she spoke the words, "who is obviously going to be around for…awhile."

Lucas grinned wide, inside he was reeling! His arms circled her with a will of their own, and he pulled her close, whispering words of gratitude into her hair.

It smelled like cranberries.

She leaned her head back; her face just inches from his.

"Before you get too excited, you should know my parents are there too."

His gaze fell to her lips. The temptation to close the distance between them was agonizing, but then she might not feel comfortable enough to take him to the park, and he'd do nothing to jeopardize his chance to meet his little girl.

The blonde shrugged, bringing her even closer.

"I'm gonna have to face them sooner or later."

She looked up at him through her eyelashes, uncertain how to disentangle herself from his embrace. Even less certain that she wanted to.

"Yeah…yeah, I guess that's true."

She took a breath to steady herself, and slid her hands down his arms until she found his hand.

Riley laced their fingers together as he reluctantly released her, and began leading him toward the park where their daughter was waiting.

Cory Mathews handed his granddaughter to his wife Topanga and rummaged through the basket on the ground for the family picnic blanket. He lifted the worn, faded, fabric and began unfolding it with his hands.

"Oh! What a beautiful baby," he sang to the toddler with a smile.

"Oh! What a beautiful day! I've got a wonderful feeling..." he glanced up to see his daughter approaching. Only she wasn't alone as he'd expected.

Topanga noticed her husband's sudden shift in mood and twisted to get a better view. She instantly recognized the problem.

"What's he doing here," the older man hissed as he shook the blanket violently.

His wife smiled down at the little girl in her hands.

"Obviously Riley invited him. Be nice."

He threw the blanket on the ground and began tugging at the corners, agitated when it wouldn't lay straight.

"How do we know that?" He challenged. "Maybe he's holding her at gunpoint."

Topanga rolled her eyes.

"Cory, do you see a gun?" She kept her tone cheerful to distract Lily from the tension.

He squinted, examining the man as he neared.


She looked up at him, her smile wide yet threatening.

"Then be nice." She ground out.

Lucas tensed as the Mathews family came into view. Even from a distance, he could see the disgust on his former teacher's face. He couldn't blame Mr. Mathews for hating him or being skeptical of his innocence in the matter. He imagined he'd feel the same if something similar happened to his own child one day.

His gaze shifted to the little girl in Topanga's arms.

That child was no longer hypothetical. She was smiling, living angel, with soft curls in her brown hair and the sweetest giggle he'd ever heard.

"Are you okay," Riley asked, squeezing his hand. It was only then he realized he'd stopped moving.

He looked down at their hands and then to the woman staring at him with such concern.

She was the mother of his child. He knew that already, but it was as though something inside his brain finally clicked, and he saw her with new eyes.

He'd always admired her. From the day she'd fallen into his lap, he'd been moved by the beauty and strength of her character. He'd respected her, loved her. None of those affections wavered with time, but seeing their little girl, seeing Riley in her, it struck him how incredible the woman next to him truly was; that she had carried and born the miracle they had created together.

"She's amazing, isn't she?"

Everything about her seemed warmer; her eyes, her smile. She always looked like that when Lily was involved.

He wondered if he looked the same way, the way he imagined a father should.

"Amazing isn't a good enough word."

There was no word able to do her justice in his eyes.

Lily caught sight of her mother and took off running, despite Topanga's efforts to hold on.

"Mommy!" she squealed. Her grandmother followed after.

"I'm sorry, she saw you and just," the woman, paused in front of them. "Well, you saw."

Mrs. Mathews was one of the fiercest women he'd known, and standing in front of her after all that happened, was extremely intimidating.

"Lucas." She nodded in his direction. Her tone was clipped, but not unfriendly.

Her focus returned to her daughter and he got the feeling some unspoken conversation was taking place between them.

"Mommy," Lily wrapped her arms around her mother's leg, begging for attention.

She bent down to the little girl's level with a smile.

"Can you just give us a minute?"

Topanga nodded, and headed back toward her husband, giving the three of them the privacy requested.

Riley shot him a tentative glance, before turning her attention to their child. She stroked the little girl's hair back from her face.

"Hi there, beautiful girl. Did you have fun with grandma and grandpa?"

Lily giggled instead of answering the question. Riley laughed too.

"I'm glad you're having a good day," she cooed, reaching up to take his hand.

"Can you do mommy a favor?"

The little girl's head tilted to the side, the exact same way Riley sometimes did.

"This," she said, pulling Lucas down to the same level, "is mommy's friend, Lucas. Do you think you can say hi to him for me?"

Lily studied him with her big, green eyes a moment, before smiling and waving her approval.

"Oh, hi!"

Lucas beamed with pride, as he extended his hand and the little girl accepted it, while Riley watched with her heart in her throat.

"Hi Lily," She wrapped her second hand around his and used both to give it a firm shake.

He looked up at Riley with tear brimmed eyes, asking for guidance.

Lily's determined expression melted into a heart full of concern.

"Okay?" she asked, placing her hands on each side of his face. "No cry. No be sad."

He grinned, fighting back the tears so as not to scare her.

The brunette's chin dipped toward her chest with shame.

She'd been so wrapped up in all the ways Lucas's return complicated their lives, that she had forgotten the good in it. This was the good; seeing his eyes shine with love for her, watching her bond with him. This was what she had spent the last two years wishing for.

Maybe it could all work itself out, and they'd all be okay.

Lucas could scarcely believe the tenderness and concern of their child. He looked into the eyes that mirrored his own, sensing that part of him within her. Could she feel it too? Did she have any idea how much he already loved her?

"He's okay," Riley assured.

The little girl pointed to his face.

"He's crying," her tiny finger ran down his cheek.

The blonde chuckled. She was smart too.

"He is crying baby, but that doesn't always mean sadness. Sometimes people cry when they're happy too."

Lily squinted, as though she were processing her mother's explanation, before turning back to Lucas.

"You happy?"

He nodded, finally letting the tears fall.

"Yes, sweet girl. I'm very happy." He glanced over to Riley, gratitude etched into his features. "Happier than I've been in a long time."

Her little face brightened.


Both adults laughed at her enthusiasm. Lily giggled too, though she didn't understand why.

"How about we go swing?" Riley suggested, knowing her daughter wouldn't be able to resist her favorite activity on the playground.

The little girl clapped her hands excitedly and took her mother's hand, while Lucas looked down at his own uncertain how to proceed.

Her heart ached for him, as she watched him stand there, fidgeting with the ends of his shirt.

A smile formed on her lips as she rose to her feet.

"Hey Lily, do you want to fly?"

The little girl's eyes grew wide and so did her grin.

She looked over at Lucas, hoping he would latch onto the life preserver she'd just offered. But he didn't move or speak. He just stood there looking lost.

Her gaze shifted back to Lily, who leaned in eager for whatever secret mommy was about to share.

"If you let Lucas hold your other hand we can swing you together and you'll be able to fly. You wanna try it?"

The blonde shook his head.

"Riles, you don't have to do that."

His eyes were focused on the beautiful little girl at his feet, watching her wheels turn. He'd already gotten more from this day than he'd ever expected. Pushing his luck didn't seem prudent, and if he was honest with himself, he feared the chance of rejection.

The brunette studied her daughter's expression and wondered if she'd made a mistake. It had never occurred to her that Lily would hesitate.

After several seconds of pondering, she extended her other hand to Lucas with a simple "Otay."

Topanga observed from the picnic blanket, while her husband alternately sulked and fumed next to her. She had been an advocate for Lucas, and a cheerleader of his relationship with her daughter; a fact she'd never forgiven herself for once he'd disappeared from their lives. His ignorance absolved him of abandonment, leaving her to question what she felt about Lucas Friar, and her support of him in the past.

Her lips curled into a smile as Lily took their hands and they swung her up into the air.

"They look happy, Cory."

Her husband shifted uncomfortably.

"Who had the bright idea to sit on the ground during picnics," he muttered, ignoring her comment.

"The ground is hard, and cold."

She shot him a puzzled glance.

"It's eighty-six degrees out."

He shrugged off that one as well. He had no interest in being told he was wrong.

"I can't believe she brought him here," he gestured toward his daughter, "And that you're okay with it! Am I the only one that remembers what he did?!"

Topanga decided to ignore accusation, and focus on the picture in front of her instead.

Lily kicked her little feet, while Riley pushed her from behind and Lucas stood to the side, taking it all in with a smile. The toddler squealed and the two adults shared a conspiratorial glance before exchanging positions.

Riley appeared more at peace than she had seen her in years, though she knew it wasn't likely to last. Being her father's daughter, she had a tendency to lean toward the safe and comfortable. Her situation with Lucas Friar was neither of those.

She watched him push her granddaughter on the swings, turning back toward her daughter with a smile. Clearly, the gesture meant a great deal to him.

Her husband's concerns were understandable, she too, had some reservations, but if the two of them could work together for Lily's sake, wasn't that a good thing?

Once Lily tired of the swings, she focused her attention to the merry-go-round, and then the jungle gym with the spiral slide. The toddler flitted from one station to another, while her parents followed, and her grandparents observed from the sidelines for the better part of an hour before her energy began to fail.

The little girl tried to hide the yawn behind her hand, but Riley saw it.

She turned to Lucas with a sigh.

"I hate to say it, but we should probably head out soon. It's about her naptime."

When Maya had first blurted out her rights as Lily's mother, she'd been relieved; happy to have protection from the whims of Lucas's temper. Riley had all the power, but exercising that right didn't make her feel secure. It made her sick.

She had given Lucas this time with their child, and now she was taking it away.

The corner of his mouth quirked upward in a half-hearted smirk. That was his way of trying to make it better for her.

"Yeah, probably."

The brunette bent down, taking both her daughter's hands in her own.

Why was this so hard?

Lily didn't understand about paternity or heartbreak, but she could sense her mother's pain.

"No be sad," she whimpered.

Riley tossed her head back, fighting the fresh round of tears pooling in her eyes. She didn't even know why she felt like crying. After a deep breath to compose herself, she met her little girl's concern filled gaze and forced a smile.

"Mommy's not sad baby," she fibbed, brushing her daughter's sympathy tears away. "There's no need for you to cry."

The little girl examined her mother's face, and thought back to her explanation earlier.

"Mommy happy," she asked.

The brunette nodded, unable to lie to her child a second time.

"We had a big day, didn't we?"

She didn't wait for a reply.

"We played at the park," her gaze flitted to Lucas and back down.

"We made a new friend."

She almost choked on the word.

"But now it's time to go home, so I need you to do me one more favor, okay?"

Lily nodded.

Riley glanced up into the tortured green eyes of her daughter's father.

"Can you say goodbye to Lucas for me?"

The toddler beamed at her mother, happy to comply with her request.

Lucas squatted to her level, brushing a strand of hair that had fallen from her ponytail.

"I had so much fun playing with you today, Lily."

She grinned and before either adult realized what happened, the little girl wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed gently. He circled his arm around her, returning the embrace. He hadn't allowed himself to hope for such acceptance, but having it offered meant everything.

Riley stood motionless; adrift. She watched with wide eyes from above, counting the seconds until her daughter let go.




Finally, the little girl released her father's neck and waved her hand rapidly in his face.

Lucas chuckled, thinking how much she reminded him of her mother when they'd first met. He hoped Lily would be the same; that she'd cling to that childlike innocence and enthusiasm as Riley had.

The brunette placed a hand on her daughter's back and began to steer her in the opposite direction.

"Why don't you run over to grandma and grandpa so mommy can say goodbye to her friend?" she gestured to her parents who were standing just a few feet ahead, and no doubt watching their every move.

"I'll be right behind you," she promised.

She took off for her grandparents' arms, occasionally looking back for her mom.

Riley turned to Lucas, straining a smile. She knew how much this day had meant to him, and didn't want to ruin it with her own conflictions. He thanked her repeatedly for bringing him along, and gushed with enthusiasm about similar occurrences in the future while she stood there clutching her arms and questioning her reaction. Seeing her daughter take Lucas's hand had warmed her heart, given her hope, but when Lily had thrown herself into his arms like that…

Lucas was in such a good mood after his day with Lily and Riley that he decided to take the long way back to the hotel. He'd been back in the city for a week and most of that time had been spent alone in his room either kicking himself for not knowing he had a child, or obsessing over his argument with her mother. But today, the sun was warm and the universe kinder, giving Lucas the courage to explore some of his older haunts.

If he remembered correctly, there was a basketball court not far from the park. He used to go there with Farkle, after the genius had used physics to help him make an impossible basket for one of Mr. Mathews' assignments, and then the two of them had brought Zay there when he'd moved into the city. The group of six had shared many places of interest, but the court was just for the three boys.

He could hear the sounds of the game as he neared. There was a group of boys, not much older than they had been, playing. The ball bounced against the concrete while the teenagers talked, joked, and did their best to intimidate one another. It was almost like being back in time.

Suddenly, one of the boys looked over. His brow furrowed as he examined the man standing in front of him.


The young boy shouted, his tone unsure.

The blonde blinked, taken aback by the greeting.

"Do I…know you?"

The boy laughed at his question, and looked back toward the benches, which were hidden from Lucas's view.

"Man, for a second, I thought I was hollering at the wrong stranger," he pointed his index finger, and looked back to the bench again. "Come here, you're not gonna believe this!"

An older man appeared from the sidelines, tensing as his dark brown eyes landed on the tall blonde.

It took a moment for Lucas to place his old friend.

They'd only seen one another once since he'd been back, and that encounter hadn't gone well.

The boy pointed at him, and looked back to his mentor for approval.

"I told you, you wouldn't believe it! He was just walking by and I when I saw him, I knew I knew him from somewhere. Took me a minute, but I remembered that picture in your office of you and your friends. He's the guy, isn't he? The friend from Texas?"

Zay flinched at the boy's choice of wording.

He felt guilty about their altercation, but more than that, he was confused by it. Lucas's name had been cleared of any wrong-doing. Any anger he felt on Riley or Lily's behalf was officially moot. Yet each time he thought of Lucas or that day, his muscles would stretch and his blood would boil.

He offered the boy a reassuring grin before shaking his head in denial.

"Sorry kid, that ain't no friend of mine."