Joanne DeSoto peered through the front window for the twentieth time in the last two hours. "Shouldn't he be here by now?"
Her husband smiled. "Johnny said there were three more firefighters to drop off before he could get here. Maybe it took longer than they expected. He'll be here soon, Jo."
"I just want to see him, make certain that he's alright," she said with a quickly suppressed sniff.
"I know the feeling."
She turned to look at her husband of nearly 35 years, admiring his pure white hair and handsome features. "I'm sorry, Roy, I know you do." She walked over to his waiting arms, comforted by the bulk of him. Although there was still a tendency to pudge around the middle, her retired fireman was still big and strong, perfect for leaning on when the world became too much to bear.
A clumping sound of feet running down the stairs brought a smile to both people. "Is he here yet?"
"No, Jennifer. Soon." Roy was beginning to worry himself. Even with additional drop-offs and traffic delays, his former partner should have arrived at the DeSoto house by now.
Jennifer took Joanne's post, unconsciously imitating her mother's stance. "Uncle Johnny had better -- " Roy's daughter squealed and ran for the front door. "He's here, he's here."
The young woman's parents chuckled fondly. "You'd think she was 6 years old rather than 36."
"She still loves Johnny with the same adoration." Joanne gave her husband a squeeze before pulling away to walk to the door.
"Yeah. One of the few adult women over 18 and under 68 who does."
At the door of the house, Roy saw Johnny hugging Jennifer tightly in his arms. The hair was shorter and flecked with grey, but his old friend was still younger looking than his years. But when Johnny raised his face from Jennifer's shoulder, Roy saw the toll the attacks in New York City had taken on him.
"Roy? He looks...old," Joanne whispered in shock.
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. As bad as it looked to us on the tv, it must have been a thousand times worse to be there."
"Oh, Johnny," Roy's wife wailed, giving in to her own fears and throwing herself into the weary man's arms, Jennifer having finally stepped away. "Welcome home."
"Thanks, Jo. You don't know how good you guys look to me right now."
Joanne joined her daughter on the sidewalk, watching her usually reticent husband hold his hand out to Johnny. She smiled through her tears when, upon their hands meeting, Roy pulled his friend into a tight bear hug.
"Thank God you're okay."
"Battered and worn out, but alive. Roy, we lost so many firefighters that day. Red O'Hara from 69 called his brother on the FDNY this morning before we took off. They're saying the count will probably be 343 firefighters down."
"There's no hope for survivors being found?"
"I...there's always hope for a miracle, but...no. After seeing what little is left of the Towers, I doubt it. This has been a hellish three days."
"You're tired and you need something to eat. Come inside, Johnny. I'll cook you supper." Joanne bustled over and shooed her two favorite men inside, Jennifer having picked up her uncle's suitcase.
"What time do you have to report to work?" Roy asked.
"The Chief doesn't want to see me for two more days unless it's an emergency."
"Good. You'll stay with us. You can sleep in Chris' room."
"Roy, I was hoping you'd say that. I really don't want to be alone. I need to talk to somebody, be with somebody."
"That's what I figured. While Jo's cooking, we'll take a couple of beers and go out on the deck." Roy gently massaged the back of Johnny's neck as they walked through the house, unable to break physical contact. His brother by choice if not blood was home safe.