Caitlin tiptoed down the stairs as quietly as possible, even if she knew, from the babbles and coos she could hear, that there was no real need. Sure enough when she got to the turn of the stairs, she saw exactly what she expected to see : Joe, sitting in his favoured chair, a huge grin on his face as he balanced Dawn on his knees. His hands were holding the baby firmly at the waist, her chubby little legs moving up and down just like Joe's as she giggled with delight at the double bouncing movement. It was such a relaxed and happy sight that it made Caitlin want to smile too and, for just a moment, she did.
Then she schooled her face into what Cisco liked to call her schoolmarm mode and walked down the rest of the stairs.
"Your grandson is fast asleep," she informed Joe, who didn't even have the grace to look a little bit guilty. "And I don't think bouncing her up and down is going to get her to join him."
"But she's so cute when she does it." Joe let Dawn bounce one more time for good measure and between his obvious pride and the baby's shriek of delight, Caitlin felt her composure start to crack. "And look... she's nearly ready to stand by herself. Ain't that right, my pride and joy baby girl?" Dawn reached out and patted him on the cheek as he spoke and Joe's smile brightened even more, something that Caitlin wouldn't have thought possible.
"You need to be thankful that Barry and Iris can't see this," she told him, crossing her arms over her chest. "They'd never leave you in charge again."
At that, Joe looked directly at her, lifted one eyebrow in obvious disbelief. "You mean they left me in charge this time?"
It was probably meant to be a joke but considering the way Dawn and Don had him wrapped around their fingers - Dawn especially, with her remarkable resemblence to Iris - there was many a true word spoken in that jest. Still she couldn't be too cross with him, not when she found the way he interacted with the babies to be so adorable. "Besides, she's still a little young to stand alone," she pointed out, coming around to perch on the arm of Joe's chair.
Once Dawn saw her though, there was only ever going to be one outcome. The baby made a squawk of recognition, arms shooting out in Caitlin's direction, tiny fists opening and closing. "Traitor," Joe grumbled in mock disgust but he handed the child over with a smile on his face, only removing his hands when he was sure Caitlin had a firm grip of her. Carefully she stood up, holding the baby against her shoulder, one hand on her back, the other cradling the back of her head. Dawn snuggled into her neck, resting her cheek on Caitlin's shoulder and letting out a contended little sigh. Her breath was warm against Caitlin's skin and she hummed a little as she swayed with the baby, savouring the feel of her in her arms.
When she looked back to Joe, his smile was no less broad but it was different somehow. Softer. Almost like he was considering something. "You're good with her." His voice was different too, lower in register, admiring in tone. It sent a shiver down Caitlin's spine, had heat pooling low in her stomach. "With both of them." Her grandfather's voice had Dawn lifting her head but her eyes looked heavier now, sleep probably not too far off. "You ever wish..."
Caitlin shook her head, knowing what he was alluding to. "Once upon a time," was all she would admit to, but that was a long time ago. Back when she dreamed of being a famous scientist and Ronnie's wife, back before particle accelerator explosions and dark matter had mixed to blow a hole in her plans, her life, the world.
He nodded, like he understood but wanted to be sure. "Before..."
"Before this?" She waved her hand, the one that wasn't pressed against Dawn's back, and a tiny flurry of snowflakes drifted through the air. Dawn lifted her head with a mewl, reached her hand out to try to grab some of them, returning her head to Caitlin's shoulder when they were too far out of reach, gazing up at Caitlin with a frown, like it was all her fault. "Partly."
Joe blinked, tilted his head. "Only partly?"
"Mostly," she amended. "We don't know what could happen... what the effects on a baby would be." She ran her hand up and down Dawn's back. "And even if we did..." She looked over at him, met his gaze and didn't blink. "I know you love being Papaw... but I don't think you want to go back to being Dada."
He drew in a long breath, let it out slowly. "If you wanted to..." he began but she shook her head, mindful of the child she held but not willing to let her mind start down a path that she'd long since made peace with not exploring.
"But I don't," she said. "I'm happy with how things are now... us, like this, helping Barry and Iris out where we can..." She moved her head back, looked down at the baby to confirm what she'd already guessed, that Dawn was sound asleep against her shoulder. "You know what they say about a bird in the hand."
"Yeah." Joe's voice was close, soft and not, she thought, just so that he wouldn't wake Dawn. She felt one warm palm land on her back, saw the other rest gently on the baby's and she closed her eyes, resting her cheek against Dawn's soft curls, feeling Joe brush a kiss to the top of her head.
"My pride and joy," she heard him murmur and she knew that, for once, he wasn't talking just about his grandkids.
Just like she knew that she was right moments earlier - there wasn't a thing she'd change about her life right now.