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Distraction

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It’s six o’clock by the time he’s dealt with the coroner and all of the official business one has to deal with in situations such as this, and he’s spent hours letting Mary cry on his shoulder.   He would have spent hours more except Mary had given him a kiss on the cheek and told him to give himself a break from being the adult and take a time out, so here he is in his truck sitting outside of Danny’s house without even meaning to drive there.

It’s not that it’s totally shocking, Danny’s always his first thought with anything big. Good or bad, Danny’s always who he tells. But today Danny’s got Charlie and Grace, and Steve didn’t intend to ruin their day, so he sits in his truck and just stares at the house and tells himself to leave.

He’s not even sure how long passes, but he’s completely startled by the sharp rap of Danny’s knuckles on his window. “Hey partner,” Danny says, grinning at him. “Earth to Steve, you coming or going?” Danny’s smile falters as Steve blinks at him and then he opens the door and steps closer. “Steve?”

“Can I not talk about it,” Steve says, breathing out in a huff. “Can I just come… Can I just come be with you guys and not talk about it?”

Danny reaches forward and wraps his hand around Steve’s forearm, steadying and reassuring, and it’s almost enough to break him. “Whatever you need, babe.”

Steve almost leaves then, almost takes the keys and twists the engine, but then he sees Grace pop her head out and give him a big huge welcoming grin and start to run across the yard yelling “Uncle Steve!” and he’s completely incapable of disappointing Grace so instead he pulls the keys out and slides out of his truck and bends down to pick her up and spin her in a circle.

“That’s just what I needed,” he says into her hair, smiling. “A special Gracie hug.”

He follows them inside and immediately is tackled by a rambunctious Charlie and roped into playing Jenga. It serves as a really great distraction and thirty minutes in he’s halfway into a beer and laughing so hard at Grace and Danny arguing on whether it’s cheating for her to use two hands -- “You’re supposed to use one, Grace!” “But my hands are small, I’m allowed!” – that its easy to forget that he still has to arrange a funeral tomorrow and make arrangements with the crematorium.

Two hours later he’s had two more beer and Grace is taking a bath as Danny puts Charlie down to sleep and Steve is left alone on the couch. His phone beeps and he looks down to see a text from Mary.

-- Hey big brother, you doing alright?

He smiles to himself and types back, Yeah, I’m doing okay.   How’re you and Joanie? About to head your way, ya’ll need anything? 

Danny sits down on the opposite end of the couch as Mary’s response comes back in and Steve glances over at his concerned, contemplative look and just shakes his head before reading the text.

-- We’re fine, worry wart. Say hey to Danny.

He laughs to himself. Trust her to know where he would go when even he hadn’t. He laughs again when the couch is filled with a bouncing Grace jumping up to sidle against his side, throwing her arms around him and tucking her head into his chest. “Hey sweetie, I get another special Gracie hug?”

“You get as many as you want,” she says, squeezing his side. “You seem sad today.” She turns her head to look up at him and it shouldn’t be so disconcerting to see Danny’s same look in her eyes, that concerned, calculating, searching look that reaches right into his soul. “Can we help?”

He reaches up to thread his fingers through her hair and bends his head to kiss her on her forehead. “Already are.”

“What happened,” she asks, leaning back to look more fully at him.

“Oh, hey, Grace, I don’t think Uncle Steve wants to talk about--”

“You remember my Aunt Deb,” he says, because he can’t look at her face and not give her everything she wants. “We had Thanksgiving with her at that restaurant a few years ago?”

“Yeah,” Grace says, nodding. “I knew she was visiting this weekend. I asked Dad why you weren’t coming over for dinner.” She frowns then, and chews her lip. “Wasn’t she sick?”

Steve nods and looks over the top of Grace’s head to Danny, and can tell right then that Danny knows what he’s going to say already just by the way he meets Steve’s eyes. “Yeah sweetie, she was. She uh. She.”

“I’m sorry,” Grace says, so quiet and soft, and then she hugs him again and mumbles into his chest. “Did she die, Uncle Steve?”

“Yeah, she did. This morning,” he says, catching Danny’s eyes as he squeezed Grace back. “I think she knew it was going to happen. I think she was ready.”

“I’m sorry, Uncle Steve,” she says one final time before pulling back.

“Thanks baby,” he says, and kisses her forehead.

“Why don’t you go to bed Grace,” Danny says, grinning at her and holding out an arm to give her a hug. Steve’s been over here enough times to know that it’s not Grace’s bed time yet, and that normally Grace would argue the point, but instead she silently gives Danny a hug and starts towards the hallway.

“Love you Danno.”

“Danno loves you more,” Danny says, but he’s looking at Steve.

“Love you Uncle Steve.”

Steve grins at her. “Love you too, kiddo. Thanks for all the special Gracie hugs, they helped.”

There’s a moment of silence where Steve prepares for Danny to yell at him for not telling him sooner, but instead Danny just kicks a leg out and toes his calf. “Want another beer or something harder?”

“Nah, I should take off,” Steve says, not looking at him. “I left Mary and Joanie, didn’t intend to be gone this long. Just needed a…” He shrugs, looking around. “I don’t know. A distraction.”

“You know you could have called, right,” Danny asks softly. “I would have dropped the kids off with Rachel. You didn’t have to do this alone.”

“I wasn’t alone,” Steve says, smiling at him. “But yeah, I know.”

“I’m so sorry, I know what she means to you,” Danny says, sliding over on the couch to sit next to him. “You doing okay?”

“Uh. Yeah?” He shrugs, unable to meet Danny’s eyes. “No? I don’t really know?”

Danny swings an arm around him, clasping his right hand over Steve’s shoulder and his left hand back on Steve’s forearm, and Steve closes his eyes because it just grounds him so much somehow. Like the worlds been spinning around off its axis all day, but Danny just righted it with two hands and sheer force of will. “Anything I can do?”

“You’re already doing it,” Steve says, leaning into Danny slightly. “You and Gracie both. Like your psychic and just already know what I need before even I do.”

Danny huffs out a laugh. “Guess that’s cuz we know you, buddy,” he says, and pulls Steve closer into him.