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EPILOGUE - VERSION 2/ PART 2 FOR "PATTERNS OF WARMTH: To Love and to Cherish.
"Did that really just happen?" Steve asked as he ended the Face-Time call with Emily Gardner. He was still staring at the computer screen, as frozen in time as the last blurred image hung up in the computer's buffer.
"She loves him," Danny replied trying for a simple off-hand shrug and failing. This was far too big of a deal. "She's been working hard for months to do the right thing for him." The way his voice cracked through the last few words ruined his lame attempts at nonchalance. Danny wound up sagging into Steve's shoulder in equal disbelief, kissing his temple and at a total loss to do anything more. What had just occurred was anything but easy for Emily Gardner. Her decision was heart-wrenchingly generous - and both he and Steve were having a difficult time digesting it.
Rocked by Danny's weight, Steve still didn't really move. Instead, he blinked once and then twice to combat the tears in his eyes. He was afraid to breathe. In his wildest dreams and, he'd had more than a few of those, this had only happened under an extreme alternate universe.
"Tomorrow? They're going to be here tomorrow," Steve in a monotone, still transfixed by the last image of Emily standing up, the blur of her white blouse the only thing on the screen.
"Your son is going to be here tomorrow," Danny murmured into his ear. He was grinning like a loon now, the laughter beginning to bubble. But where he was smiling, Steve was shocked and resolute about his worry.
"He's completely disengaged," Steve whispered. "He barely talked to us."
"Like the last few times," Danny concurred. He quickly lost his smile. "Since he's left, he's been slowly shutting down. According to Emily, after the first week when things seemed to settle, instead of getting better, it all got worse. No matter what she's tried to do, he's barely talking to anyone anymore. He's not interested in eating or playing. He's not riding that beast of a pony. This last time, with the latest ASL tutor though?"Danny stopped talking as he rubbed at his face. He sighed heavily. "The writing's on the wall; someone just has to be able to read it."
"He hadn't cried before," Steve said. "Emily said he just burst into tears and ... cried ... for hours. He's miserable, Danny."
"He loves you - and most importantly, he trusts you," Danny noted softly. "But he also loves his Aunt Emily and he's confused. He doesn't know how to say what he wants and we're all walking on eggshells. He's been through a lot in the last ... is it almost two years already?"
"He trust you too, Danno. You were the first one to figure out how to talk to him," Steve replied. "He loves you and needs you." He turned his head to kiss Danny's cheek. "But yeah, for him it's been a long, hard two years. He was abducted just before his fifth birthday; I don't know how he's managed to stay such a good kid. He's such a good little man."
Danny's lopsided grin was fond and doting. "Because he's innately that way and Emily has tried everything; she keeps trying to do all the right things for him. But Steve? To be honest, I feel terrible for her. She's thrown herself into his care and it's not working. It's incredible to me that even her mother agrees with this decision. As C.J.'s grandmother, she agrees that it's not working for any of them."
"No. No, it's not working at all," Steve added thoughtfully. "He's clearly not happy there. He was so much happier here ... with us ... and Charlie. And God knows, Charlie misses him." He moved then and looked up towards where Danny was beginning to pace.
"He does," Danny agreed. "Charlie misses him, a lot. He's always asking when C.J. is going to come back and be his brother." His smile was returning and he was literally wringing his hands as his excitement built. "We'll tell Charlie in the morning before we go to the airport. Grace?" He laughed out loud because he'd just remembered his daughter.
"Grace! My little girl is going to have another baby brother! I can't wait to tell her and see her reaction; she's going to be so surprised. Maybe even a little overwhelmed. But I bet she loves him just as much as we all do. Now though? You and I? We have a lot to do in a very short window."
"Can you believe that this is really going to happen?" Steve asked as his expression began to brighten. "God, I almost forgot about Gracie." Danny's daughter Grace had missed meeting C.J. entirely. She knew of him and had even seen him on a Face-Time call or two, but that paled against a real in person meeting. Steve's smile grew at the thought. Three kids? His one-time nearly deserted family home had become a happy, bustling place filled with love and laughter.
"Do I really think it's going to happen! No, you goof! It is happening!" Danny chuckled back. "We will never be able to make this up to Emily but we will dammed well try. They're all family now."
He ran his fingers over Steve's hand until their fingers intertwined and then he pulled Steve to his feet. With his other hand, he clicked the lid to the laptop closed.
"You can believe it. This is real. C.J. is going to be your son."
"Our son," Steve corrected him.
"Yeah," Danny laughed softly. "Ours." He wrapped Steve within the circle of his arms, savoring the moment. "But you're all mine."
His wickedly sly comment and tilt of an eyebrow made Steve laugh outright. But it was his hands that made Steve's knees feel weak. They sunk lower until Danny was gripping and then massaging the soft rise of his buttocks through the material of his jeans.
"No one's home," Danny coaxed as if Steve wasn't very much aware of that fact. "I mean, I do know we have a bedroom to get ready; shopping ...but ..."
Steve grinned when Danny tucked him in closer. Neither of them were aroused yet, but the teasingly gentle offer was enticing. Steve's answer was a run of his fingertips of the bare skin of Danny's arms. He trailed his fingers lightly over his shoulders, and then around to his back until he was copying Danny's fondle. Steve pulled them closer together yet and pressed a kiss to the side of his head before finding his mouth. His kisses deepened and became more ardent, and yet other emotions were taking precedence.
Through some incredibly generous act, the little boy he'd fallen in love with was essentially being returned to him.
"Your son's coming home," Danny murmured when their kiss ended. He'd read Steve's mind which of course, was an easy thing and Steve chuffed out a sound of acknowledgment. They were still nose to nose and Steve closed his eyes when he felt tears threaten. He rocked his forehead against Danny's. His emotions were at a crossroads of disbelief and doubt versus a sense of overwhelmed, incredulous joy. He could be all of those things at the same time though, couldn't he.
"My God, Danno," he said, throat tight. More and more of what was going to happen was sinking in now. By this time tomorrow, he'd be welcoming a very special little boy back into his life: full-time. "Is this really happening?" As a happy tear did cut loose to roll down his cheek, he kissed Danny again, an almost desperate act to stop more tears from joining that first. He was helpless to stop them though. He drew in a breath of air and promptly half-laughed, half-sobbed.
"You're a mess," Danny teased with him with a gentle laugh and kiss to his nose. He swiped Steve's tears to the side with his fingers, all with an indulgent smile. "Who knew this big, bad SEAL was such a marshmallow on the inside?" He tapped Steve's chest and then plied him with another but far more chaste kiss. "You could kill a guy with a pencil and a paper clip. This ... this is why I love you so, so much."
"Me too," he just about croaked the words out much to Danny's ongoing delight. "You're wrong about one thing though."
Danny pulled away a bit, confused. "About?"
Steve shrugged, his smile coy. "Don't need the paperclip, buddy."
Shoulders shaking in mirth, Danny bussed a loud kiss to Steve's lips. "You putz," he laughed as he reeled Steve close once more. Stuck forehead to forehead, their hands in each other's back pockets, Steve was grinning from ear to ear. Holding the man he loved and believing that this particular dream was going to come true, Steve couldn't be more content than he was that very moment.
"There he is," Danny said as they stood near the welcome gate as the nonstop flight from . "About one o'clock. See him?"
"Danno ... where?" Charlie complained as he held his father's hand. "I want to see!" Impatient and excited, Charlie tugged on Danny's hand. "Where is he!?"
"He's coming ... he's coming," Danny promised. "He's right there with Emily and that au pair, Mrs. Oliver, we were told about. Hey, there we go! He sees us!" Danny said with a wave and a smile.
"There he is Uncle Steve!" Charlie shouted. He tugged hard on his father's hand in his excitement. "There's C.J. Do you see him?"
"No. Yes!" Steve said as he finally spied the little boy. He'd been on his toes, using his height to his advantage and he'd still missed C.J and Emily in the crowd. With two planes arriving at nearly the same time that late afternoon, the airport was busy. He smiled, beaming as C.J. saw him at the same time. Steve thought he'd had himself firmly in hand until he laid eyes on the child. He thought he'd be absolutely fine until the little boy stood firm and quite unexpectedly raised his hand in the air, his eyes never leaving Steve's face.
Fingers fanned out wide and thumb to forehead, C.J. was making something very very clear and Steve literally stopped breathing.
The seriousness of the boy's young face and the impact of the gesture wasn't lost on Steve or Danny. They knew that particular finger-sign very well. It just had never been used for either one of them. They were 'Steve' or 'Danny'; short but specific finger-signs indicating their names.
Never ... 'daddy'.
There in the airport, after being so long apart, it now meant that C.J. was laying claim and ensuring that all the adults were well aware of his expectations. But where Danny chuffed a pleased noise in his throat, Steve could barely speak.
"Danny ...," Steve sighed the name on the whisper of an exhale as his heart swelled. "What do I do? What do I say to him?"
"Just tell him that we love him," Danny answered, his voice quiet. "That's all." He cleared his throat, the sniffle a tell-tale indication of what he was feeling, too.
At a loss though and with emotions spiking, Steve could only think to nod his absolute agreement - his promise - in the boy's direction. They stayed riveted to each other even when C.J.'s eyes lit up and the serious expression changed on the fly to one of sheer delight. And then, Steve simply didn't have the time to think of what he might say as C.J. dropped the toys he'd been holding to run towards him.
Steve lost him a time or two as the child dodged through the crowd. He was close when he finally broke through a cluster of people and Steve did begin to shed happy tears then as C.J. spared one short second to hold his thumb to his forehead again, mid-flight, his eyes solely on Steve's face. His heart lurched inside his chest. Torn by a flood of love and worry; newly startled by this blatant show of attention and want, Steve glanced towards Danny. But he was still smiling from ear to ear. There was no time for Steve to ask him what he thought - to apologize or figure out if they needed to fix something - but then he found that he didn't need to worry at all.
"He's ours Steve. No doubt about it, but at the same time ... he is your son and it's dammed wonderful," Danny reassured him happily as Steve knelt down just in time to catch the six-year old who bounded into his arms.
There wasn't time for anything as Steve went with the boy's momentum to scoop him up. Standing tall in one fast motion, his hands wrapped around C.J.'s waist Steve tossed him high into the air. Arms spread wide, eyes shining brightly, C.J. giggled out loud in his breathy way as his father caught him, only to toss him up again. Giggles turned to a happy peals of laughter and Steve burst out laughing too, as C.J.'s arms and legs flailed wildly in the air.
Around them, surprised and happy onlookers laughed and gave them room to enjoy themselves. Steve registered the babble of sound, a few sweet remarks, one which resonated and he stored away like a rabid squirrel.
"Such a wonderful father and son reunion ... beautiful..."
Steve couldn't help losing a few more tears as he caught C.J. back into his arms on a grand down-swing. He hugged the boy tight to his body as heels were locked around the small of his back.
"Welcome home ... I love you," Steve said and vainly tried to sign with one hand as the boy clung to his neck. "We all do ... we all love you, buddy." He made a big sweeping motion with his hand to include Charlie and Danny. Charlie was practically jumping up and down now, one hand wrapped around C.J.'s ankle.
Grinning almost shyly, C.J. nodded in understanding as Danny ran his fingers dotingly through his hair and then kissed his cheek. Looking at Danny and leaning back in Steve's arms. C.J. signed a 'd' and then an 'a' ... followed by the sign for 'no'. Steve burbled a laugh as he instantly caught what C.J. was saying. But Danny had gotten it, too and he was laughing as he kissed the boy's fingers.
Pointing to Danny, C.J. repeated his new finger sign for 'Da-no' and then leaned back more to tap Steve's shoulder. He then repeated the finger sign for 'daddy'.
"And there we have it!" Danny chuckled, more than pleased by his shortened, special name. On Cloud Nine based on the tone of his voice. But Steve was on that very same Cloud as he planted a kiss on C.J.'s forehead. He brought them all together, tears still in his eyes and his free arm slung around Danny's shoulders, both boys between them.
~ End. ~