Thank you everyone for your reviews/replies! As always, they are what keep me going when working on the new chapters. I hope you enjoy this one. It took me a while to get it out.
Due to a new job, my writing time has been reduced to next to nothing, but rest assured that I will continue whenever I get time and this story will be finished. :)
Danny ducked around a clothing rack and nearly tripped over a stroller before catching his laughing son by the arm, stopping him in his tracks.
The woman who was pushing the stroller glared at him and made a comment about unfit parenting under her breath before turning and walking away.
Danny tightened his grip on Jacoby's arm and started pulling him toward the store's exit.
Jacoby stopped laughing and looked up at his father. "We goin'?"
"Yes," Danny said through clenched teeth. "It's time to go home."
"Ice cream," Jacoby wailed loudly. "You said ice cream."
Danny shook his head. "No. I told you not to run away from me while we were in the mall and you didn't listen. We're going home!"
Jacoby immediately went limp and dropped to the floor, sobbing.
Danny stood there, staring numbly at his son having a tantrum. He was aware of people stopping to watch and whisper, but found himself suddenly sapped of energy.
He was exhausted, having got very little sleep the night before. He had been plagued by dreams of Delinda, all ending the same way, with her disappearing and him waking up either sweating profusely or calling out.
He blinked his eyes and focused on Jacoby. The boy had lost no steam in his tantrum and was banging his fists on the floor.
Danny slid down with his back against the wall and dropped his head into his hands. "I can't do this."
"I can't do this." Danny leaned his forehead against the glass window of the hospital nursery.
He looked down at the bassinet that a nurse had just wheeled over a minute earlier. The baby inside seemed impossibly small to him and was crying lustily. There was a small blue piece of paper taped to the plastic wall above its head that simply said, McCoy.
As the baby's crying got louder and its face grew redder, Danny wondered if there had been a mistake. He was supposed to immediately fall in love with his child, wasn't he? This baby was just making him feel anxious.
Finally a nurse came over and stuck a pacifier in its mouth, instantly silencing it.
Danny stared as the baby sucked its way to sleep.
"My God, he's beautiful."
Danny turned his head to face Jillian, who was now standing next to him. She was wiping at her eyes with a tissue and sniffling. He could see the sadness in her face lessen as she filled with love for her grandson.
He looked back through the window and frowned. "I can't do this."
"What do you mean?" Jillian looked over as he backed away, suddenly filled with an overwhelming panic.
"This." Danny nodded toward the nursery. "I'm not meant to be a father." He shook his head repeatedly and backed into the wall on the other side of the hallway.
Jillian moved slowly toward him. "Of course you are. You'll see…"
"No. I didn't want to in the first place. It was all Delinda and now she's…." he trailed off. "No. I'll give the baby up for adoption."
Jillian felt her broken heart break a little more as she watched Danny run down the hall.
Danny looked through his fingers at the pair of high-heeled boots that had just stopped in front of him.
"I heard there was a kid having a fit over here while his father sat around doing nothing. Of course it's you," the voice accompanying the boots snapped.
Danny sighed and slowly looked up to meet Sam's eyes.
At the sound of the new, familiar voice, Jacoby stopped crying and sat up. "Sam!"
She shot him a nasty look and focused on Danny. "On your feet, McCoy." She reached out a hand and helped to pull him to his feet. "Little McCoy too."
Jacoby sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve as he quietly got to his feet and hid behind his father's leg, staring up at Sam.
"What's going on with you?" Sam whispered under her breath as she pulled Danny toward the store's exit.
Sullenly, Danny pulled Jacoby along behind him and shrugged at Sam. "I'm just having a bad day. They come out of nowhere sometimes."
"So you come to the mall and create a scene? Doesn't sound like the best plan." Sam continued walking until they were through the doors and outside on the sidewalk. She stopped and turned to face them.
Danny's face was blank and yet his eyes were full of sadness. Sam felt her heart soften just a little bit. In the past three years, it hadn't taken much from either of the McCoy's to make her lose her carefully cultivated gruff exterior, but she had always had a soft spot for Danny. She let her eyes move over to Jacoby, who was still hiding behind Danny, unsure of what was happening. When he noticed her looking at him, he frowned and ducked his head behind his father's leg. Sam's heart ached for the two of them.
Crouching down, she held out her arms. "Come here."
Slowly, Jacoby met her eyes and then moved over to where she waited. When he was within reach, Sam wrapped her arms around him and picked him up. "I'm sorry I scared you." He looked up at her and smiled wearily.
Suddenly tired from the whole ordeal, Jacoby laid his head down on her shoulder and closed his eyes; his left thumb finding its way to his mouth. Sam rubbed the back of his head softly and found herself slowly rocking him.
She looked over at Danny who was still just staring at her. "Do you regret any of this?" She nodded her head in the direction of his son, who was drifting softly to sleep in her arms.
Danny closed his eyes and shook his head. "No. Never." He took a step closer to her and leaned over to kiss the top of Jacoby's head.
Sam reached up and rubbed Danny's back with her free hand. Hooking his neck, she pulled him down to her height and kissed his cheek. "Let's get you out of this funk."
Jillian had waited for a while before going after Danny. She decided that he needed some time to process everything that was happening. In a matter of minutes he had lost the woman he loved and gained a son. She was sure he was just overwhelmed; she was praying that he was just overwhelmed. The thought of losing her new grandson was too much to bear and she pushed it from her mind.
Pushing open the door to the hospital chapel, Jillian looked inside and sighed with relief. Danny was sitting in one of the pews, rocking slightly with his arms wrapped around himself. She paused for a minute, wondering if she should interrupt his grief.
"Danny?" she whispered, her voice breaking the hushed silence of the otherwise empty room.
Danny didn't acknowledge that he had heard her, but he stopped rocking and she heard him sniffle.
She crossed down the carpeted aisle and sat down in the pew behind him, giving him some amount of privacy. She watched him wipe his face off with his sleeve.
The two sat in silence for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts and prayers.
Danny's voice was gravelly and rough when he finally spoke. "I don't know how to take care of a baby. When I looked at that baby, the only thing I felt was terror."
"No one is prepared when they become a parent. They may think they are, but they aren't. Do you think Ed was ready when Delinda was born? He was scared to death."
Danny turned to face her. "But he had you. Between the two of you, you figured it out, right?"
Jillian nodded, "Of course. That's how it works."
"Delinda is dead. I can't do it myself."
"You won't be doing it yourself! You'll have me, and Sam, and Mike, and countless other people who love you and will love your son." Jillian slid forward in her seat and rested her hand against Danny's cheek. "Anytime you feel like you're alone and you're lost, someone will be there to help you."
Danny closed his eyes and another few tears escaped. "I'm sorry. How could I ever give the baby away? It's Delinda's baby." His voice was so quiet that even right next to him, Jillian almost didn't hear him.
She stroked his cheek and the back of his head. "Not it; him." She wiped her own tears away. "Look at me."
Obediently, Danny opened his eyes and looked at her.
"Say it; him, your son."
Sam sat on a bench outside of the mall, Jacoby sleeping in her arms. His arm was curled around her neck and his breath was soft in her hair. She sighed and rubbed his back gently.
Appearing out of the mall doors, Danny crossed to the bench and sat down next to her. He handed her one of the two cups of coffee he was carrying.
Sam nodded as she sipped her coffee. "Hasn't stirred."
Danny nodded and drank from his own cup.
The pair sat in silence while a group of teenage girls passed by.
"You okay?" Sam looked over at him.
Danny's eyes had followed the progress of the girls into the mall. He turned back to face Sam and nodded. "I will be. I always am."
"How come you haven't told any of us how bad things have been lately?" Sam shifted slightly and eyed Jacoby for a reaction; there was none. "Mike said that Cooper made you take time off."
"What else has Mike said?" Danny grumbled.
"Danny." Sam shook her head. "Don't get defensive, we're only trying to help and if you don't let us in, we can't. You know that we've all been available to do anything since Jake was born and Delinda died, but we can't read your mind. If you're having a hard time, tell us so we can help."
Sam could tell that Danny was getting agitated and shifted again, hoping he wouldn't raise his voice and wake up Jacoby.
"It's been three years! It's ridiculous that I can't get past this and get on with my life."
"What are you trying to get on with? Danny, your whole life changed that day and it was going to whether Delinda made it or not. You're a father; and a damn good one, but you have to accept that this is how it is. It's okay to grieve, even three years later. But to get into these paralyzing funks where you stop living, is not going to change a thing."
Danny sighed and slumped down against the back of the bench. "I know that, I do… it's just," he shook his head and stopped, staring straight ahead, the fight drained out of him. "You've heard all of my excuses." He shrugged and looked at her. "You're right." He smiled slightly, "as always."
Sam smirked. "I love hearing that." She finished her coffee and set the cup on the bench next to her before lifting her hand and swatting Danny hard on the upper arm. "But damnit McCoy, when this happens come and tell one of us. I'll take Jacoby and Mike will take you out for a beer and we'll get through it."
Danny rubbed the sore spot on his arm. "Ow."
"I'm not going to drag your ass out of the mall and talk you down again."
"Alright," Danny nodded.
Sam eyed him. "I mean it."
The pair laughed and settled into more casual conversation while Jacoby napped in Sam's arms.
The sun had sunk lower as the afternoon had passed, but the early evening was still desert hot in Las Vegas.
Jillian and Mary had stayed up late the night before as they caught each other up on what had happened in the last four years. Jillian had told Mary all about her grandson and how he had come into the world and Mary had sat, trying to picture Danny as a father. The one thing Jillian hadn't told Mary about was Danny's endless grieving, she felt it wasn't her place.
Mary was sitting at the small table in the breakfast nook, holding a glass of iced tea between her hands. She had a clear view of the kitchen, where Jillian was cooking dinner and cradling the phone against her shoulder.
Jillian sighed and let the phone drop into her hands. She turned it off and put it down on the counter. "I don't know where he is. He hasn't answered his cell phone or his house phone all day."
"Are you worried?" Mary questioned, feeling slightly worried herself.
Jillian thought about it for a minute before shaking her head. "Not really. There are too many people in this town that know Danny. If something had happened, someone would have called me."
Mary laughed in agreement. "True."
The two resumed their continuing conversation about Mary's work in Colorado as an aide at a long-term care facility for the elderly. Mary felt she had found a calling and was hoping to find the same position in Las Vegas.
They were so consumed in their talk and the comforting noises of cooking that they both jumped when the front door banged open twenty minutes later. Mary clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming and Jillian turned, back against the counter to face the door to the front hallway.
Jillian immediately relaxed and smiled as she heard two sets of familiar footsteps heading away from them toward the living room. One running, thunderously, the way only a small child can and the other an adult working to keep up.
Danny's voice carried from the living room. "Hey Grandma!" he yelled. "We're going swimming in your pool."
Jillian and Mary heard the patio doors slide open followed by the sound of Jacoby's laughter and then a splash as Danny dove in. They could hear Danny coax his son to join him and there was soon the noise of playing in the water.
Smiling, Jillian turned to face Mary, who looked slightly pale. "Would you like to come and meet my grandson?"
Mary took a deep and steadying breath before nodding. She was incredibly nervous about seeing Danny after the years that had passed and the tales she had heard.
The two women walked out of the kitchen and followed the same path the boys had just taken. There were shoes and shirts strewn along the way. Jillian stopped to pick up the towels that had been dropped just inside the door.
Jillian crossed into the fading sunlight on the back patio and smiled watching as Jacoby laughed and held onto Danny's shoulders. The pair disappeared under the water and as soon as Danny stood up again, Jacoby dissolved into more laughter.
"Boys, we have a guest." Jillian walked over to the edge of the pool and blew a kiss to Jacoby.
Danny turned in the water just as Mary made her way to the edge of the pool. "Oh my God!" His smile was huge as he saw his childhood friend. He started making his way to the edge of the pool, but Jacoby wasn't as excited about seeing the new person as his father was and started whining.
Mary watched as Danny stopped to deal with his son's stranger anxiety. She took in the sight in front of her; the little boy with buzz cut blonde hair, safely wrapped in his father's arms as his father whispered in his ear about his old friend who he wanted the boy to meet. She looked at Danny as he pointed up at her, his dark hair cut much the same way as his son's, making them look remarkably alike.
As much as Mary wanted to be jealous that Danny had the one thing she truly wanted and that she hadn't given it to him, she couldn't be. She saw too much of Delinda in the little boy's face and she immediately missed her friend.
With Jacoby still slightly weary, Danny moved down the edge of the pool, still in the water, until he was beneath Mary. He squinted in the sun and smiled up at her. "Mary, I'd like you to meet my son, Jacoby."
She squatted down so that she was closer to eye level with them and smiled as Jacoby held out his little hand to shake hers. "Hi."