Ch 11

Rafe walked as quietly as he could down the stairs, cursing silently under his breath as he stepped on the creaky one. It's was early morning...barely 6:30, but he couldn't stay in bed anymore. There wasn't much he could do this early in the morning in the winter, but he still liked his quiet time. Walking into the living room he was startled by a soft voice.

"How long have you lived here Rafe? And you still hit that creaky step every time," Danny said laughing softly. He was laid out on the couch with a large book propped open on his chest.

Rafe smiled sheepishly at him. "Yeah well....what are you doing up?"

"Habit," Danny shrugged. "Morning is the best time for me to study. My classes don't start until 9 or 10. I usually get up at 5 and get some reading in before Kate and the kids wake up."

"Did you make coffee?" Rafe asked, walking into the kitchen.

"Yeah, it should still be warm."

Grabbing a cup of coffee, Rafe came back into the living room, sitting in the chair opposite his friend. "So, what're you reading," he asked, enjoying the aroma of the coffee as the cup warmed his hands.

"Shakespeare....Henry V," he replied closing the book and grabbing his own cup.

"Figures," Rafe chuckled. "No light reading for you in the morning, is there?"

Danny grinned slightly. "Well, I could have been reading my psychology text."

"Oh god....no, anything but that," Rafe joked. "Seriously...things are going well?"

"Yeah, Rafe," Danny nodded. "Things are going fine. The classes are good and Kate and the kids are adjusting well. Kate's actually reading some of my course books...and she's a great proofreader when it comes time for me to turn in my papers." Danny shook his head in wonder. "She should be going to college too, but she doesn't want to. She's happy with the kids. She's thinking about running a kind of cooperative child care program for the mothers....and she's also started a book group. She's actually busier than I am. I just go to class and study."

Rafe sipped his coffee, smiling, seeing how proud Danny was of his wife. "Two of a kind," he said. "Evelyn was right. You two were meant for each other."

"Meant for each other?" Danny questioned, his eyebrow raised slightly.

"Yeah," Rafe said, feeling slightly uncomfortable talking about such a topic. "Evelyn and I were talking about it last night....how happy you guys are. And she said that it was obvious that you were meant for each other." He shrugged. "She's got a point. I've never seen you smile so much - and I've known you for as long as I can remember."

"Well, I never thought of it in those terms," Danny said, staring into his coffee, "but Kate....she's the best of me. She's everything. I honestly don't know how I lived without her in my life." He laughed lightly. "It's sounds....sappy, I know, but that's the way I feel. I look at her sometimes...it doesn't matter what she's doing: reading, washing the dishes, sleeping, changing a diaper...it doesn't matter...and my heart feels like it's going to burst I'm so happy." He glanced sheepishly over at Rafe.

"I think I know how you feel," Rafe said quietly.

"Yeah, I guess you do," Danny replied.

The sat for a moment. The hall clock ticking quietly in the background as they sipped their coffee.

"You know," Rafe said suddenly. "I think my mom would be really happy right about now."

Danny looked up abruptly, surprised that Rafe was bringing up his mother. "Really?"

"She always wanted a big family, but both her and dad didn't have brothers or sisters...and then there was only me...until you moved in. I think she would like it that we're here together, with our families. She'd really like that."

"Yeah, she would," Danny smiled softly. "Your dad, too."

"Yeah," Rafe agreed.

"I think they'd like Kate," Danny said quietly. Jake and Lily McCawley had been the best guardians he could have ever had. They had taken him in without question. Danny could remember sitting in his living room after his dad's funeral, a man from social services was talking to him, explaining what was to happen to him since none of his relatives wanted to take him in. He had never felt so abandoned and unwanted. And then Jake McCawley had walked in with Judge Nelson from the county court. Within minutes the social services man had left and Danny's bags were packed. He was going to live with the McCawley's. He never really had a chance to thank them for all the unconditional love and support they had given him. He deeply regretted that now. "Did your dad get a chance to meet Ev?" Danny asked.

Rafe nodded. "He did. Danny too. We came here shortly after Danny was born - Ev was going to take care of Dad while I was gone. He was pretty sick. He died in April of '43."

"I'm sorry," Danny said unnecesarily. He had loved Jake McCawley more than his own father.

"He went quietly...and I like to think happily," Rafe told his friend. "He loved to spend time with Danny. Ev says that's what kept him going for so long."

"He was a good man....I'm sorry I didn't get to see him again. I would have liked to have told him...." Danny stopped, unable to find the right words to express how much Jake had meant to him.

"He knew," Rafe reassured Danny. "He knew."

"I hope so."

"We've come a long way since we used to sneak out and go skinny dipping with the Kendricks," Rafe said, still looking into his coffee.

"Yes, we have," Danny agreed, watching Rafe carefully. He could see the slight frown between his brows as he contemplated his cup, an obvious sign that there was something Rafe wanted to say, but he wasn't quite sure how to.

"We've been through more than we ever thought was possible when we left here," Rafe started. "Before we left to join the army...my dad and I had a talk. He told me that the road in front of me might be long and twisted, or if I was lucky...straight and true, but that no matter what, I should remember that I would always have someone walking beside me - you." Rafe looked up at Danny his eyes calm and serious. "He said that he felt better knowing that we'd be going off to training...and possibly to war...together, because he knew that we would look out for each other. That we weren't just friends, we were brothers...and that would be our strength when times got tough. He was right," Rafe told Danny earnestly. "Knowing you were on my wing, or just beside me - that made me stronger, more confident. And when you were dead, when I thought you were dead...that was the lonliest I've ever been. I felt like....I was flying blind. You weren't there, and all the anger, all the jealousy....it didn't matter any more. I just wanted you back alive."

Danny watched Rafe struggle with the words, amazed that he was willingly opening himself up. He could feel his own heart tightening in response to his friends emotional words. He understood what Rafe was saying because he felt the same way. He always had. They were brothers.

"I know Rafe," Danny told him softly. "I understand."

Rafe grinned slightly. "I know you do." He paused. "I just want to say thank you....for the sacrafices you've made for me....beyond the call of brothers."

Shaking his head, Danny protested. "I didn't do anything you wouldn't have done for me, Rafe."

"I'm not talking about China," Rafe explained. "I'm talking about....Danny."

"Oh," was the only thing Danny could say. He had not expected this.

"I want you to know that Evelyn and I had always planned to tell him...about you. And now...God, I wish I could do the noble thing and step aside....but..." he trailed off, his voice becoming hoarse as he tried to find the words.

"I love Danny," Danny said, his own voice hoarse. "He is my son and I will always love him....but you are his father, Rafe. I...can't tell you that it doesn't sometimes...hurt....to see him and...you. But, you are his father. I can't....I won't...step in and confuse the whole situation. What would his life be like if he grew up with a family that was so...divided....a father in one house with one wife...a mother in another? The gossips in town would have a field day." Danny shook his head slowly. "I believe that this is the best thing for everyone. Danny doesn't need to be confused like that. I'll be away for the next 4 or more years...he doesn't need a father who's not here. I can be his uncle, that will be enough."

"You're sure?" Rafe asked quietly.

Danny nodded. "I'm sure."

"We can't keep it a secret from him forever," Rafe said. "He's bound to find out someday. I won't hide the truth from him."

Danny smiled a little. "Okay. As long as he's safe and happy and loved....that's all he needs from us."

The soft scampering of little feet in the upstairs hall broke into the serious moment. Both men smiled as the listen to the footsteps coming down the stairs, deliberatly jumping over the creaky step and continueing.

"Even they have it figured out," Danny chided Rafe softly.

They watched as the two children crept from the stairwell towards the kitchen, not seeing the two men watching them.

"Just what do you to think you're doing up?" Rafe asked in a loud voice.

Danny jumped and Grace let out a little squeak. Turning into the living room, Danny leapt into his father's lap. "Daddy, you 'gared us!"

Grace stood beside them, hands planted firmly on her hips, a scowl on her face. "That wa'n't nice, Uncle Rafe. You made me be loud and mama and Sam are sleeping."

"I'm sorry Grace," Rafe smiled, touseling her hair. "But you guys were being so sneaky. I couldn't help myself."

"What were you up to, Miss Grace," Danny asked, trying to hide his grin.

Grace shuffled over to her father, her head low and cocked to the side, a small smile on her face as she looked at him with her big green eyes. "Well...Danny an' I are hungry an'...well...Aunt Evelyn made cookies for me....an' well, we didn't want to wake mama...so we thought...."

Danny looked at Grace sternly. "So you thought you'd sneak down here and have cookies for breakfast?" he asked, his brows raised in question.

"Uh huh," Grace nodded, her foot tracing the carpet pattern as she tried to look meek.

"It was Grace's idea," young Danny chimed in. "I wan'ed to wake up daddy, but she said we should sneek." Grace glared at him.

Rafe laughed. "Well, it would have been a good idea to ask first, but a word of advice......" he smiled down at the boy, "don't ever rat out your friend."

"Yes sir," Danny replied solemnly. "Sorry Grace."

Grace wasn't interested in apologies, she was too busy giving her father 'the look' that always seemed to bend him to her will. "We're soooooo hungry daddy," she said forlornly.

Danny tried to hide his smile as he looked over at Rafe. "I don't know....what do you think, Rafe?"

Rafe pretended to think about it for a moment. "Well, I'm a bit hungry myself.....there might be enough cookies for all of us...and if we're still hungry I suppose we can makes some pancakes too," he winked over at Danny. Both men smiling broadly as the two children started for the kitchen.

"But don't tell your moms, okay?" Danny called after them as he got up off the couch. "I don't think they'd like the idea of you having cookies for breakfast. It'll be our secret"

"No sir," little Danny said, pausing as was climbing onto the counter to get the cookie jar. "You don' rat out your friends or your daddies," he said, his brown eyes serious. "Right Grace?"

"Right," she agreed, nodding her head emphatically.

Rafe and Danny laughed. "That's right," Rafe agreed grabbing the cookie jar from his son and putting it on the table.

"Who want's milk?" Danny asked, already getting glasses down from the cupboard. Grace scampered to get the milk out of the refrigerator.

Soon the were all seated around the kitchen table, happily eating cookies and milk for breakfast. They talked about the coming holiday and when Santa would come, both children being curious as to how Santa actually got up and down the chimney with all the presents. Rafe and Danny did their best to explain it, but all they recieved for the efforts were two dubious looks.

They're laughing converstation was interrupted by Evelyn just as they were fighting over the last of the cookies. "And just what do you think you are doing?" she asked, her arm crossed over her chest. "What are you eating?"

The four culprits sitting around the table looked at each other guiltily.

"Uh," little Danny began hesitantly. "We're haffing....cookies....do you want one?" he asked holding one out to his mother.

Evelyn tried to keep a stern face, but she couldn't. "Only one?" she asked, her face breaking into a smile. "I'm so hungry...did you eat them all?" She moved to sit in the chair next to Rafe, his arm going around her shoulder and pulling her close.

"You can have mine, Auntie Ev," Grace piped up. "And Daddy can pour you some milk."

Evelyn smiled. "That would be wonderful." She looked up at Rafe, who leaned down and kissed her gently.

Danny watched them, seeing the love between them. Seeing little Danny as he piled the cookies in front of his mother and climbed into Rafe's lap. It made him feel good to see them so happy. He didn't feel like he was abandoning his son. Little Danny was well loved and cared for. And he was happy for them. He felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder, lightly moving to play with his hair.

"I guess I missed all the fun," Kate said, laughingly. "That's the last time I sleep in."

"I think we're just going to have to make another batch," Evelyn said, smiling as the kids broke into cheers.

Kate handed Sam to his father as she sat down next to him, her hand caressing his arm. "It's a lot of work....do you think we can find some helpers around here?"

Grace and Danny immediately volunteered. "Me! Me! Danny and I can help!" Grace chimed in. "I know how to break the eggs! And Danny can help stir."

"I wanna break eggs too," Danny said.

"You don't know how," Grace told him.

"Do to!" Danny retorted.

"Do not!" Grace replied. Dismissing Danny's wants she turned to her mother. "Can we make them now?"

Kate laughed. "I think so. And I think everyone can practice cracking the eggs," she said, seeing the stubborn look on young Danny's face as he glared at Grace. "We don't want any fighting, so we'll share the work. Okay, Grace?"

Grace sighed dramatically. "Okay. But he's gonna get shells in it an' then we won' be able to eat the cookies."

"I won't!" Danny declared indignantly.

"Will too," Grace replied haughtily. "It takes lots and lots of practice to do it right."

Danny opened his mouth to say something, but decided the best response was to simply stick out his tongue.

Rafe laughed, giving him a squeeze. "Don't be rude....you'll learn how to crack eggs with the best of them, don't you worry."

Evelyn and Kate stood up. "Let's find all the ingredients. Grace, you get the butter," Evelyn said. "And Danny, you go get the flour from the pantry."

Danny and Rafe watched as their wives and children began to make the cookie dough. Smiles flittering across their faces at the harmony of it. This is were they all belonged. Together, as a family.

Catching his eye Rafe smiled over at Danny seeing the same emotions of happiness and contentment reflected in his friends' eyes.

And Danny couldn't help smiling back.

End 11/11

End Smiling Back IV